We’re over halfway through the year now and the great tracks just keep coming. Another totally mixed bag of genres make up the top 30 this time round and there were a couple of big albums released at the end of the month that given a few more spins might have added a couple of entries (maybe next month will see them make the list). Take a listen and see if you uncover a new favourite –
30. Fredo – Freestyle (Freestyle – Single)
This man is having such a great year, releasing a really strong full length back in January and about to release a follow up just over six months later. This track contains the usual high standard of flow from Fredo and is coupled with a tremendous atmospheric production, creating a four minute piece that hits hard with the wordplay. The new album drops on the 6th August and is shaping up to be a must listen.
29. You Me At Six – Read My Mind (Read My Mind – Single)
Another band having quite the productive year, the SUCKAPUNCH (2021) album came out in January and has now been reissued as a deluxe edition with extra tracks – including this anthemic rocker. Continuing to add layers of more experimental production to their sound whilst still retaining the power of the guitars and catchiness of their choruses, this is another example of what makes them one of the strongest and most consistent bands on the UK rock scene.
28. Brady Watt – The Narcissist (feat. Westside Gunn & DJ Premier) (The Narcissist – Single)
This is a really cool sounding hip hop track with a crisp 90s sound. That should be no surprise as DJ Premier is one of the best producers to ever do it and coupled with the bass playing and compositional skills of Brady Watt and the Ghostface-like flow of Westside Gunn, makes this a surefire winner. Brady Watt has been around for a few years now but has been signed to DJ Premier’s TTT Records and that looks to be a great combination.
27. Johnny Football Hero – Sister Hellen (Complacency – EP)
Upcoming rock band from Philadelphia, they have elements of punk and hardcore to their sound but with an alternative accessibility and willingness to experiment. Full of riffs, gang vocals, off kilter beats, time changes and soaring voices, this song hits you like a body check in a mosh pit but as you’re going down you’re still smiling and singing at the top of your lungs!! Ones to keep an eye (and ear on) for sure.
26. The Last Artful, Dodgr – Lightwork (Lightwork – Single)
Evoking The Weeknd and in turn Prince, this is a delightful bit of pop music. Cool sounding 80s synth riff, coupled to crisp electronic beats, a smooth vocal and a super catchy chorus (that strangely brings to mind ‘I Want You To Want Me’ by Cheap Trick!!), creates an instant earworm. This artist has been around since 2015 but only just feels like she’s about to make her mark.
25. Remi Wolf – Liquor Store (Liquor Store – Single)
Funky pop single from the Californian artist, this is her best release so far. It has a radio friendly feel to it but that is very much dispelled by the copious amounts of the use of the word muthafucker sprinkled throughout!! This only adds to the songs coolness!! She’s released a handful of singles in the last 6 months which have tracked her growth and emergence as one to watch over the next six.
24. JAWNY – Tombstone Grey (The Story Of Hugo – EP)
Catchy as hell slice of alternative pop with one of the hookiest choruses of the month. It has a sweet sounding power pop feel and is beautifully orchestrated, fully evidenced in the songs coda where everything else drops away to leave the strings to play out the melody. Taken from his most recent EP, which is well worth a listen and hopefully is a taster for a full length.
23. Connie Constance – Prim & Propa (Prim & Propa – Single)
This was definitely a pleasant surprise!! I hadn’t been overly enamoured with any of her previous releases but this started with a nice folk pop intro and then adds a great beat, reminiscent of Rusted Root’s ‘Send Me On My Way’. Then the guitars hit!! Only for a few moments but with such power and force and completely unexpected that it forces you to stop and really listen and then play it all over again immediately. Great stuff and makes me want to see where she goes next.
22. Nothing But Thieves – If I Were You (Moral Panic II – EP)
Taken from their latest EP which is a follow up to last years Moral Panic (2020) full length, these guys have really hit their stride now and are sounding arena ready on each new release. This has a slinky pop feel coupled to their huge guitar sound come chorus time, the right balance between catchiness and heaviness, that’s worked so well for bands like Muse and Biffy Clyro before them. Excellent stuff that deserves to propel them to rock’s top table.
21. Tennis System – Dizzy (Dizzy – Single)
This has such a brilliant 90s sounding indie feel, all New Order meets My Bloody Valentine goodness. You can really get lost in the lush sounding guitars, keyboards and bass on this one and still sing along to the Ben Gibbard (Death Cab For Cutie) esque vocals. They remind me of the kind of band you’d find tucked away on an old UK 90s compilation series called Shine, which was full of alternative hits but was also home to a few gems from bands that were never going to make the big leagues. Even though it doesn’t exactly sound like it, I definitely mean that as a compliment!!
20. James Blake – Say What You Will (Say What You Will – Single)
I’m a big fan of Mr. Blake but on the first couple of spins of this lead single from his forthcoming 5th album, I wasn’t sure what I thought!! After many subsequent listens I now find it to be a thing of beauty. It’s a tremendously constructed song, almost old fashioned in it’s feel and not what I was expecting at all but like the songs slow build to a wonderfully fragile climax, the time it takes for the track to truly sink it’s way into your heart is more than worth it in the end. It contains his most gorgeous sounding vocal to date and is heartbroken and wounded and funny and hopeful and defiant all at the same time. A really exquisite listen and one that continues to get better every time.
19. Sabaton – Kingdom Come (Kingdom Come – Single)
I love Sabaton and the only thing that could make me love them more is to cover the mighty Manowar!! They do that superbly here, taking this epic track from Manowar’s Kings Of Metal (1988) album and giving it a tremendous modern day metal sheen without losing any of the power. This is hard rock at it’s catchiest, anthemic, air punching best. Plus it contains an excellent guitar solo that absolutely rips!! Sabaton have been producing awesome power metal since the early 2000s and have a whole host of gems in their back catalogue worth seeking out.
18. Big Red Machine – Renegade (feat. Taylor Swift) (Renegade – Single)
What happens when you combine Aaron Dessner (The National) and Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) with Taylor Swift? Pure brilliance as evidenced by this single and the previous collaborations collected across the most recent albums by Miss Swift. This is very much in the same vein as those works and that is fine by me as they work so well together and are definitely the perfect fit to let Taylor’s talent truly shine. Big Red Machine have released one self titled album back in 2018 and have their second lined up for the end of August, featuring a number of guest artists and the appearance of Taylor on at least one more track. Looking forward to hearing that when it drops.
17. Billie Eilish – Happier Than Ever (Happier Than Ever – Album)
This was a really late addition to the list. Despite only being able to give the album one full listen before the cut off point, this title track really stood out and has had plenty of plays. Both Billie and FINNEAS have the knack of making pop songs that are different and adventurous and this one ticks those boxes so well. The switch up in the songs second half is amazing, the building up of layers of instruments creating a distorted and warped noise that made me think my headphones were breaking on first listen. It’s songs like this that really set her apart from so many of today’s top pop stars and give her a cool edge that will ensure all her future releases are greatly anticipated.
16. KESH – Mind Maze (Mind Maze – Single)
This is a lush piece of electronic pop goodness on only the third single from this London-based artist. It has a dreamily epic feel across it’s near 6 minute runtime and builds to a second half of the track which is chock full of keyboards and trance-like synths. It’s so assured for someone so young into their career and what she does next is high up on my list of releases to check out in the second half of 2021.
15. Laura Mvula – Got Me (Pink Noise – Album)
This was released as a single in May but since the album dropped at the start of July, it’s really wormed it’s way into my brain and become a real favourite. Production-wise and musically this is so Bad (1987) era Michael Jackson it’s scary!! The funky bassline brings an instant cool and the vocal glides across it perfectly, never flashy but fitting the feel of the song like one white glove. Just like this track, the whole album is a real grower and well worth a listen.
14. Royal Blood – Limbo (SebastiAn Remix) (Limbo – Single)
Already a big fan of this song in it’s original form, French producer SebastiAn brings some smooth Parisian disco feels to the remix. He keeps things silky and relaxed for the majority of the track before unleashing the huge bass riff and drums at the songs final third, guaranteeing the transformation of that disco into a full on mosh pit. Brilliant stuff and how to do a remix that is different but doesn’t lose the essence that made the original so good in the first place.
13. High Contrast – Remind Me (Jungle Mix) (Notes_From_The_Underground_2.0 – Album)
The original of this from 2016 is absolutely amazing, one of my favourite dance tracks of the past decade. This remix by High Contrast himself and released as part of his Notes From The Underground (2020) deluxe version, is also a total banger. Keeping the Aretha Franklin vocal samples and glorious keyboard motifs from the original and then layering in old skool jungle drums and bass and the synth sound of Experience (1992) era Prodigy, creates something familiar but fresh and will sound great blasted in a club or on a huge sound system.
12. deadmau5 – When The Summer Dies (feat. Lights) (When The Summer Dies – Single)
Brilliant dance floor filler. Bumping beats and bass, keyboards that buzz at you like a swarm of bees with their stingers stabbing and an icily cool vocal from Lights all combine to create a summer banger. The breakdown and build at the songs centre is done awesomely, getting you jumping in the air or vigorously nodding your head, perfect for whatever dancefloor camp you fall into. deadmau5 is having a quality 2021 so far with each single being definite additions to any party playlist.
11. Pola & Bryson – Neverend (feat. SOLAH) (Neverend – Single)
Really loving this drum’n’bass duo this year, they’ve dropped a string of singles which have all hit the mark. Combining the pure vocal of SOLAH to their wonderfully crisp and dark sounding grooves, they’ve got themselves a winning formula and are sticking to it – which is very much a good thing. Really interested to see what these guys could pull out of the bag across a full length, they haven’t released one since 2018 so it has to be coming up to the time when one is due, fingers crossed!!
10. Caroline Polachek – Bunny Is A Rider (Bunny Is A Rider – Single)
Instantly catchy pop song from this former member of Chairlift, her most easily accessible to date. She keeps things simple here, crisp production and catchy melodies are the name of the game and it works tremendously well. You are guaranteed to be humming this for days afterwards, even if you don’t want to – the undisputed mark of a great pop song. Hopefully her next album has a few more of these lined up for it.
9. Jaden Thompson – Only One (Only One – Single)
Now this has a funky groove!! Once it locks in it fully immerses you in it’s bass, swirling synths and soulful vocals and gets you moving. This UK youngster is on fire at the moment, releasing a string of singles of the highest quality. As with all his stuff, it all sounds so good through the biggest speakers or a pair of headphones and is perfect for shaking your stuff on the dancefloor or sitting back and relaxing and letting the music wash over you. Excellent stuff – keep them coming Jaden.
8. Dave – In The Fire (We’re All Alone In This Together – Album)
Another album that dropped really late in the day, one that I was really hyped for and on first listen sounds fantastic. This stood out straight away, an awesome hip hop epic. The soulful beats, pianos and vocal snippets, produced by James Blake, create the bedrock for some of the best MC’s from the UK scene to spit bars over. Although not credited, there are verses from Fredo, Meekz, Ghetts, Giggs and Dave himself, each rapper given ample time to let rip across an epic seven minutes that absolutely flys by.
7. GRiZ – Ease Your Mind (feat. Ganja White Night) (Ease Your Mind – Single)
This is some funky shit!! Like Funkadelic doing dubstep, GRiZ has created a future funk anthem. This one has it all – a grooving bassline, horn blasts, squelching synths – all wrapped in crystal clear electronic production and flourishes. This one is perfect for summer parties and bbq’s and will definitely get people moving. GRiZ has had a busy year and all his releases from 2021 are well worth giving a spin.
6. Obongjayar – Gone Girl (feat. Sarz) (Sweetness – EP)
Superb pop song from this London-based, Nigerian born singer. It’s in the vein of Drake and The Weeknd but really draws on afrobeat rhythms and production. It’s laidback and relaxed but has enough power in the drums to get you moving. His voice is so controlled and smooth and just glides along the beat perfectly. The whole EP is really good and well worth your time and is the follow up to his debut mini-album released in 2020.
5. Inja – Reach Out (feat. Charlotte Haining) (Smile & Wave – Album)
Such a cool sounding drum’n’bass record, laidback but with enough of a kick to get you dancing. Inja is a veteran of the scene and this is taken from his just released second full length album. He combines a hip hop feel with skittering beats and a wicked bassline and mixes this with the polished vocals of Charlotte Haining adding the hook. It has a pop sensibility that you don’t always associate with Hospital Records releases and deserves to get more chart success than it will probably achieve. I’m looking forward to giving the album a few plays to see what other pearls I can uncover.
4. Sam Fender – Seventeen Going Under (Seventeen Going Under – Single)
This is the sound of an artist going from strength to strength. He released a really strong debut album in 2019 showing plenty of promise and talent and judging by how good this is, 2021 will be the year all that promise truly comes to fruition. Coming on like a Northern Springsteen or a Geordie fronted Killers, this is a guitar based anthem, full of passion and power with lyrics that feel real and lived through. The new album is due in October and I’m hopeful that it will make it’s way onto my best albums of the year list come the end of December.
3. James Vincent McMorrow – Paradise (High Contrast Remix) (Paradise – Single)
I’ve become quite the fan of JVM’s (which I’m sure no one calls him!!) releases over the past 18 months and when you couple his pop infused song writing nous with the electronic excellency that is High Contrast then you are sure to have a winner on your hands. This takes an already great song, full of hooks and an earworm of a chorus and just adds pure drum’n’bass bliss to proceedings. This will get you singing, dancing, raving – whatever takes your fancy. It’s further proof that James Vincent McMorrow and electronic music go together so perfectly and takes him further away from his singer songwriter roots.
2. Bruise – Joy (Joy – Single)
This is a sweeping, epic dance beauty. It evokes electronic sounds from the 80s, 90s and 2000s and has a superb beat and sumptuous synths that ebb and flow and seem to melt as the track goes on. There are chanting vocals, banging house pianos, soaring strings – everything you could want from a dance track is included here. It all works perfectly, never doing too much, allowing all elements to build and subside throughout the movements of the track and leaves you feeling euphoric come the tracks end, knowing that nothing is going to be able to follow that musical high – a real show closer.
1. GRIP – Gutter (feat. WARA) (Gutter – Single)
One of the first things I heard this month and nothing toppled it from the number one spot. This is hip hop done futuristic style but with one foot in the past as you can hear the influence of Company Flow, Cannibal Ox and Pharoahe Monch. It very much took me back to when I first heard the Dan The Automator side project Deltron 3030, who released one excellent album before birthing Gorillaz. The production on this track is superb, taking electronic music and twisting it around an old school hip hop beat, distorted raps spit on top and lead to a chorus that will get stuck in your head for plenty of weeks/months/years to come. The other releases from GRIP this year, whilst not as forward looking or sounding, all show an incredible talent that hopefully should do big things this year, bringing a bit of a traditional sound to the hip hop scene.
Here’s the full Spotify list –