March is in the history books and that means it’s time to review the top 30 aural pleasures of the month. This was a strong month and quite a task to trim it to only 30. I’m sure there will be something for everyone across this list and maybe even your new favourite track/band/artist may be discovered.
Let’s see shall we…
30. Moses Boyd – The Code (feat. Alewya) (The Code – Single)
Laidback, sensual track with an infectious chorus. Different to what I was expecting, considering Moses Boyd is from a more Jazz oriented background. This has an R&B/hip-hop vibe but with great use of an actual band to lay down the backing track, giving it a fresh feel and allowing Alewya’s soulful vocal to carve out memorable melodies over the top.
29. Royal Blood – Limbo (Limbo – Single)
Third single from their forthcoming album, this is the best so far. Continuing their foray into a more dancefloor friendly sound but containing a couple of hard hitting riffs and big drum fills that keep one foot in the mosh pit, this has their most full and adventurous production yet. I can see people missing the huge rock sound of previous records but I think this works and suits them just fine.
28. Princess Nokia – It’s Not My Fault (It’s Not My Fault – Single)
Hip-hop banger!! Awesome bass and a strong flow from Miss Nokia carry this to the heights set by Megan Thee Stallion last year, with the added bonus of an absolute earworm of a chorus. Dropping tracks since 2014, this is her time to go big this year and join the pantheon of female rappers who are laying waste to the hip-hop scene.
27. Nathan Ball – Blindside (Blindside – Single)
Yet to even release his debut album, this stunning track showcases that this is a man that is in complete control of his craft even at this early stage of his career. A beautiful, moving, uplifting alternative pop song, it’s so full and rich sounding with layers of vocals atop piano and synth and a persistent electronic pulse, this is the sound of a future star.
26. Lil Tjay – Headshot (feat. Polo G & Fivio Foreign) (Headshot – Single)
Awesome triple threat from three of the best in the the hip-hop game right now. Dark and booming production (evoking the late great Pop Smoke), each MC brings their own flavour to the track. Lil Tjay steals the show with his sing/rap style cutting through the gloom like a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. About to release his third album, this could be a big year for this young man from New York.
25. Kylie Minogue – Real Groove (feat. Dua Lipa) (Studio 2054 Initial Talk Remix) (Real Groove – Single)
This is like stepping into a time machine and emerging through a fog of hairspray and cigarette smoke onto a dancefloor in 1989!! The original version of this team up of pop superstars old and new came out last year and narrowly missed out on my top 100 list. The remix is even better!! It has all the hallmarks of the classic Stock, Aitken & Waterman production that powered Kylie to the top of the charts in the late 80s and miraculously sounds incredibly fresh in 2021.
24. For Those I Love – You Stayed/To Live (For Those I Love – Album)
The debut album from this Irish contemporary poet hit this month and was a really great listen. This is the standout track, blending dreamy electro beats and synths to the spoken word passages that draw you in to every word, it sounds perfect through headphones, sinking back into your chair and sinking whatever your chosen beverage may be. Chilled out but thought provoking, it showcases that, when done right, rap can be poetry and poetry can work in rap.
23. Machine Gun Kelly – DAYWALKER! (feat. CORPSE) (DAYWALKER! – Single)
Um, i really didn’t expect to like this one!! I haven’t been a fan of any Machine Gun Kelly track I’ve heard previously, whether it be hip-hop oriented or the more recent Blink-182 pop punk style stuff. So when I pressed play on this I had already dismissed it as something that would not be on heavy rotation in the Manley household. Wrong!! This is dark (very dark) hip-hop, almost Slipknot sounding without the guitars, lyrically angry (to say the least!!) music that is designed to create a reaction from the listener, good or bad. This gets bonus points for containing the fastest whispered rap I’ve probably ever heard. Not saying I’m a connoisseur of whisper rap mind you!! Actually, what the fuck even is whisper rap?!? Coming soon Thomo1980’s whisper rap top 100 – make sure you subscribe for that shit 😝
22. Saweetie – Best Friend (Remix) (feat. Doja Cat & Stefflon Don) (Best Friend – Single)
You can count on Saweetie to produce a club ready hip-hop banger. Produced by pop hit maker extraordinaire Dr. Luke (and potential bad guy according to Kesha), this is a perfect blend of radio friendly but hard edged rap that can appeal to a wide range of listeners. The best thing about this remix are the bars spit by Britain’s own Stefflon Don. She has a great mixture of UK rap with a Nicki Minaj esque patois and hopefully will be involved in more releases this year as she has the potential to be a breakout star.
21. serpentwithfeet – Heart Storm (feat. NAO) (DEACON – Album)
The first couple of tracks that came out before the release of the second album from this American experimental soul singer were a good taster but this is the song that brings together all the elements of what makes him special. Sharing the vocals with UK singer-songwriter NAO, this is a delicious piece of atmospheric, woozy electronic R&B. Layers of synths and keyboards swirl and build whilst vocal lines and melodies flit in and out of the spaces inbetween, This may take a couple of listens to truly sink in but when it does you’ll succumb to its hazy charms.
20. Alan Dixon – Tell Me When (Night Time Melodies – EP)
More 80s sounding electro goodness, this instrumental track has plenty of time to build, adding layers of synth and keyboard motifs to a persistent beat. Just before the halfway mark it mutates into what feels like music from the soundtrack to a 1980s cop movie or better still, reminds you of old school arcade music. I can imagine side scrolling whilst taking out endless bad guys like a complete and utter badass whilst this pulse quickening track plays in the background – 8-bit style. But then again, that’s probably just me.
19. Oliver Heldens – Zapdos (Zapdos – Single)
Dutch DJ and producer Oliver Heldens is best known for his 2014 hit single ‘Gecko (Overdrive). This track tops that easily, a totally exhilarating propulsive electro floor filler, it mixes dirty sounding synths and keyboards with breakbeats and is guaranteed to get you moving as soon as the beat kicks in. Plus, my son really likes it as he saw the track name and had great pleasure in telling me that is the name of a Pokemon. Not sure if Oliver Heldens has written this as a tribute to the electric thunderbird but I’m sure the mighty Zapdos would shake a tail feather to this if it heard it.
18. Aziya – Slip! (Slip! – Single)
Debut single from this UK newbie, what a start this is. An excellent mix of pop, electronics and rock, this has some great bass playing throughout and a strong impassioned vocal performance. Making a name for herself by performing covers on Instagram, this track shows that she’s well beyond that now and is ready to emerge as a star on her own terms. Definitely one to keep an eye (and two ears) on this year.
17. London Grammar – How Does It Feel (How Does It Feel – Single)
Releasing a string of consistently classy singles, none more so than the four that have come out as precursors to their forthcoming third album, this is the poppiest and most instantly accessible so far. Pretty upbeat by their standards, it has a funky feel to the chorus and continues to mix in the electronic elements learnt from the success of the past remixes for their material. Hannah Reid has a brilliant voice, from the Florence/Kate Bush school of vocals but without the big belting notes or histrionics, she keeps it restrained and compliments the music perfectly. The album is shaping up to be one of the years best.
16. Lil Baby – Real As It Gets (feat. EST Gee) (Real As It Gets – Single)
Just like all babies, they naturally grow and develop and Lil Baby is no exception. His flow is one of the best in the rap game currently, he has the knack of being lyrically interesting and also have the hooks to rack up them sales/streams. Over brooding, bass driven backing, Baby and up and coming rapper EST Gee spit rapid fire bars, talking up how genuinely badass they are – and on this kind of form it’d be hard not to believe them.
15. HI-LO – Athena (Oliver Heldens Remix) (Athena – Single)
The man Oliver Heldens again, this time under his HI-LO alias, creates another club banger. A darker techno sound than his regular singles pervades throughout this track. From the trippy, woozy feel of the intro to the moment the absolutely filthy drop kicks in with keyboard notes being stretched and manipulated, this is a different beast to the chart success he’s achieved previously. This deserves to be played loud so you can fully immerse yourself in its speaker rattling majesty.
14. AG Club – UGUDBRU (feat. Sam Truth) (UGUDBRU – Single)
The AG Club (The AG stands for avant garde) are a hip-hop collective from California, releasing tracks since 2018. This latest single is experimental rap but with the hooks and melodies needed to lure you in. It’s a song of two parts, the second half of the track flipping a totally different beat and style reminiscent of A$AP Rocky. They have an album dropping in April called ‘Fuck Your Expectations PT. 1′ and it could end up being one of the best rap releases of the year.
13. Friend Within – Ghetto Rock (Hope – Album)
Taken from this month’s full length Hope album, this is a real dancefloor groover. Choppy disco guitars, Latin percussion, glorious horns that recall Stevie Wonder (especially ‘Another Star’) and a vocal that gets stuck in your head on first listen, this is the best track yet from this UK producer. The whole album is very much worth your time and is full of varied styles to keep everything fresh.
12. Drake – Wants And Needs (feat. Lil Baby) (Scary Hours 2 – EP)
Fantastic team up from two of the biggest hitters in hip-hop, this was the standout track from the Scary Hours 2 EP. Over a hazy synth based trap beat, this hits full stride after about 0:45 seconds when the bass and drums kick in and Drake’s flow melds into the rhythm. Both rappers styles are a great fit here and Drake always has the knack of crafting the catchiest chorus hook that keeps each track stuck in your head for days.
11. Jaden Thompson – Closer (Closer – Single)
UK producer/DJ Jaden Thompson has been making chilled out house tracks since 2017. This is his best so far, a relaxed groove with a early 2000s feel to the bassline, topped off with a heavily treated soulful vocal, this is perfect for a late night spin to unwind to.
10. Chris Lake & Riva Starr – Beat Freak (feat. lau.ra) (Beat Freak – Single)
This is a beast of a dirty electro house track from two veteran dance DJ/Producers featuring the seductive vocals of UK rising star lau.ra. This has an absolute beauty of a bassline that when it drops is guaranteed to get you moving. Italian electronic music pioneer Riva Starr has started this year extra hot, dropping a number of singles, remixes and collaborations that are all of the utmost quality.
9. Maple Glider – Good Thing (Good Thing – Single)
Just the second single from this Australian based up and coming artist, this is a thing of beauty. Delicately played and eloquently sung, this one goes for the heart. Folky acoustic guitar, muted piano and a crisp drum sound carry this song to a bridge that showcases Tori Zietsch’s pure, quietly powerful voice. To release something this assured and fully formed so young is just a sign of the immense talent this lady possesses.
8. Pola & Bryson – Under (feat. Lauren Archer) (Under – Single)
This was a really pleasant surprise. It starts with a dreamy synth based backing and lush vocal melody from Lauren Archer and then just over a minute in drops an awesome drum ‘n’ bass beat, all whilst retaining the atmospheric feel of the intro. Pola & Bryson are two of the UK’s leading lights in the electronic music scene and are only going to get bigger and better.
7. James Vincent McMorrow & Rudimental – Be Somebody (Be Somebody – Single)
One of my biggest (and best) discoveries of last year was just how good James Vincent McMorrow had become in the world of pop. Previously overlooked by myself as a decent but not very memorable folky singer-songwriter, this guy is now coming into his own. Brilliantly catchy vocal melodies are backed by the always consistently great electronic rhythms of Rudimental, this has a radio friendly sheen but also will work so well in any DJ set.
6. Nick Jonas – Heaven (Spaceman – Album)
Yes, NICK JONAS!! As in, Nick Jonas from the Jonas Brothers. If you told me I would be including one of his tracks on a best of list a few years ago then I would have thought you were high!! Truth be told he actually has a number of good songs and this is his best so far, the highest quality pure pop song of the month. Produced by Greg Kurstin, who has worked with a who’s who of pop and rock stars, everything about this works perfectly. Vocally strong, musically slick, it’s the chorus that sets this apart, catchy as hell with great backing vocals and topped off with an (in vogue) sax solo this deserves to be heard regardless of any apprehension you might have!!
5. James Gillespie & Stereo Jane – Amen (Duet) (Amen (Duet) – Single)
Incredible collaboration between UK artist James Gillespie and LA sisters Stereo Jane, this is goosebump inducing. The vocals on this track are so good, entwining together to build something beautiful and moving, backed with an electronic production that backs off enough to let the voices shine but knows when to kick in to enhance the power of the song. It’s tracks like this, from artists I previously had little to no knowledge of, that make these lists worth compiling. Check this one out for definite.
4. Dimension – Sensory Division (Organ – Album)
I first heard this guy when he did a remix of Chase & Status’ ‘International’ which is absolutely ferocious!! One of the best electronic producers on the UK scene, this atmospheric drum ‘n’ bass club banger is taken from his debut full length album Organ. This has such a lush crisp sound, keyboards and vocals that swirl around your mind building your anticipation for that inevitable beat dropping. And when it does it is more than worth the wait. The whole album is really good and no doubt we’ll be seeing more from this man on further lists across 2021.
3. Fred V – Icarus (Icarus/Reaching Dawn – Single)
After forming a tight partnership with like-minded drum ‘n’bass artist Grafix and releasing a slew of singles, albums and remixes, Fred V has signed to Hospital Records and branched out on his own. Creating epic soundscapes that really offer up such a beautiful and often elegant feel and then topped with hard hitting drums and deliciously deep bass lines, this track is a prime example of what makes drum ‘n’ bass music (and Fred V in particular) some of the most exciting stuff being released today.
2. Wesley Joseph – Thrilla (Thrilla – Single)
On only his fourth single, UK rap sensation Wesley Joseph has crafted one of the freshest sounding hip-hop records in some time. You can hear influences bleeding through but he’s not afraid to mix things up to create something with an identity all of its own. At just under five minutes this is longer than the majority of the current tracks emerging from the hip-hop scene and all the better for it. Allowing for different passages, different feels and plenty of variation, Wesley gets to showcase his vocal and production finesse, particularly when he spits bars in double time halfway through the track. This guy has the ability to be the leading light of the UK rap movement.
1. girl in red – Serotonin (Serotonin – Single)
Absolutely incredible track from this Norwegian singer-songwriter and producer. About to release her debut album next month, this is the best example yet of what makes her such an exciting prospect. The mixture of styles here is something to behold – alternative sounding guitars and vocals carrying a great melody, give way to an almost hip-hop feel with a bassline that has to be heard. Add in sumptuous electronic production and a rising chorus of voices towards the end of the track and you have the most exciting song to be released this month. What could have been a hodgepodge of sounds and a bit of a mess, all meld together perfectly to create something truly special. Get this on your lists right away and get lost in its majestic quality.
Here’s the full 30 Spotify playlist –
Here’s the full 30 Apple Music playlist –