Summer’s over and with it came a seriously heavy amount of music listening!! So much so that the top 30 was still undecided and had to be whittled down from nearly 80 tracks right up until the last day of the month. It was the most difficult month so far to prune and i almost extended it to a top 50 as the quality was so high but I had to be ruthless and here is the final list in all it’s glory. It’s a total mixed bag of styles, as always and is made up of singles and album tracks (this being one of the strongest months for full length releases so far this year).
30. spill tab – Indecisive (feat. Tommy Genesis) (Indecisive – Single)
Cool sounding alt-pop from this French/Korean artist. This has a good pace to it with lots of off-kilter keyboards and synths pinging around all over the place. She’s still relatively young into her career, with only a handful of singles to her name but undoubtedly one to watch out for.
29. Nas – Nobody (feat. Ms. Lauryn Hill) (King’s Disease II – Album)
The first King’s Disease (2020) album was a quality release from one of the best to ever do it and it’s sequel is very much it’s equal. There are a number of tracks that almost made the list but this one edged them all out due to one thing – the return of Ms. Lauryn Hill to the world of rap!! Hearing her spit on the mic just reiterates how great she is and what a tragedy it is that she’s been virtually silent for so long. It’s been 25 years since they teamed up for ‘If I Ruled The World (Imagine That)’ but well worth the wait. Just don’t leave it so long next time.
28. ATO – No Caroline (Side A – EP)
Atmospheric hip hop/pop from this upcoming British artist. The first half of the track is all woozy synths and deep bass, de that coupled to the electronically treated vocal hook floats around your head with a late night/early morning vibe. The second half rips this up completely with the introduction of a live drum kit banging out an almost drum’n’bass rhythm whilst the raps get tighter and faster. The whole EP is definitely worth a listen and is a big step forward for this Leeds-based MC.
27. Fred V – Already Disappeared (Radiate – Album)
Anyone who has been following along with my tracks of the month columns will know my love of Fred V. He’s been featured a number of times so far this year and that should come as no surprise due to the quality of his material being so high. Dropping his debut solo album this month, it’s a sumptuous listen with this track delivering the goods. Atmospheric, enveloping drum’n’bass, aimed more at the head and the heart rather than the dancefloor, it’s further evidence of the diversity and sheer brilliance of the man. Be sure to check out the album, it’s absolutely full of goodness!!
26. GRIP – Walkthrough! (feat. Eminem) (I Died For This!? – Album)
Last month he topped my tracks list with the incredible ‘Gutter!’, this month he dropped his new album which contains this banger, featuring his label boss Eminem. Both deliver great verses over a menacing, brooding soundbed and GRIP spits a chorus that sticks with you – something he seems to have a real knack for. I need to invest some more time into the full length as I’m sure there will be a few more gems to mine if these last two tracks are anything to go by.
25. Dame D.O.L.L.A. – The Juice (feat. JANE HANDCOCK) (Different On Levels The Lord Allowed – Album)
The rap alter ego of Basketball superstar Damian Lillard, this is one NBA player who can go just as hard on the mic as he can on the court. This track has slick, moody production, which allows Dame to flow effortlessly over the top, never showing off or dropping crazy bars but keeping his flow tight and on point. His new album is worth a spin and has some great guest spots on it – the benefit of being a name in not one but two games.
24. Boston Manor – Carbon Mono (Carbon Mono – Single)
Big rock sounds with a touch of pop is the order of the day from this British band. Mixing riffs, electronics and soaring, anthemic vocals, these guys sound like they’re ready to take things to the next level. Following on from three well received full lengths, this is the first taster from what should be their biggest release so far and hopefully give them the success they deserve.
23. D Smoke – Shame On You (Shame On You – Single)
Really like the production on this one, it’s different from a lot of the carbon copy beats being produced in many rap circles these days but with enough of an old school feel to appeal to hip hop heads of all ages. D Smoke’s flow is superb, able to switch up his style throughout the track, keeping things fresh without the need to flood a song with guest appearances. After making a name for himself on Netflix’s Rhythm + Flow series, he’s gone from strength to strength – check out the deluxe version of his 2020 debut full length, Black Habits, to see just how far he’s come in such a short space of time.
22. Art School Girlfriend – Is It Light Where You Are (Is It Light Where You Are – Single)
Put on a pair of headphones and get lost in this songs hauntingly hypnotic, dreamlike state. It mixes the right balance of atmosphere and pop, creating something that feels sad but euphoric at the same time, a track that you feel wants to mope in it’s room but has one eye (or foot) on the dancefloor. It builds wonderfully to a blissed out ending full of synths and skittering drums and before you know it the tracks 5 minutes are over and you are wanting to hear it all over again. This young lady from Wales has been releasing singles since 2017 and hopefully this will be the year we get an album from her.
21. Asking Alexandria – Alone Again (Alone Again – Single)
This is the first taster of the forthcoming seventh album from this British hard rockers. Continuing their move away from the heavier metal sounds of their earlier career, this still contains a couple of big riffs and a nice shreddy guitar solo but is carried out in the vein of Avenged Sevenfold meets Fall Out Boy. That may sound like an horrendous concoction to some but it works remarkably well and gives the band an anthemic, stomping, sing-along rock song that gives hope that when the album arrives in October it’ll be one to watch out for.
20. Joey Purp – OUTSIDE (OUTSIDE – Single)
This dark sounding club/hip hop track is all about the bass. The deep synth bassline has a really fluid, rolling groove to it and is at it’s best when the beat drops away mid-track, adds a bit of distortion and really sounds threatening!! This Chicagoan rapper has been releasing quality material for the past five years, building up a decent following due to both his skills on the mic and in the studio.
19. Sfven – forest ave (forest ave – Single)
This is a thing of beauty. Excellently produced and structured, it’s an alt-folk song wrapped in the most lush sounding pop sounds. Full of dreamy synths and keyboards, a vulnerable but gorgeously sung vocal and multi-tracked harmonies, this is definitely a track that deserves to get far more attention than it will probably end up receiving. After a number of releases in 2020 this is his first single of 2021 and looks to be a precursor to an album that is on my highly anticipated list.
18. CHVRCHES – California (Screen Violence – Album)
Taken from their recently released fourth album, which is really strong and their best yet, this is a brilliant slice of 80s tinged alt-pop. This is the most immediate track on the new record, full of hooks and builds and an earworm of a chorus. The whole album is full of gems that could all work as singles and is a showcase for a band at the height of their powers.
17. Deafheaven – Shellstar (Infinite Granite – Album)
The opening track on their just released fourth album, this is the band at their most accessible whilst still retaining the power of their previous works. This doubles down on the shoegaze/80s indie influences of the band, all chiming guitars and clean vocals. The more extreme metal leanings of the band have been polished away but they still know their way around some huge sounding walls of guitar noise and the track builds to a tremendous crescendo of sound in it’s final third. The album is excellent and for every fan of the band that it may disappoint due to it being different to what’s come before, it should end up picking them up even more support as more ears get to hear it.
16. Remi Wolf – Quiet On Set (Quiet On Set – Single)
Now this is funky!! It has a Neptune’s feel to the production and you can imagine Justin Timberlake would have been excited to get on a track like this. Remi has been getting better and better with each release, across singles, EP’s and remix compilation’s and she’s due to release her debut album proper this year, which could well be the best pop album we’ll hear in 2021.
15. Doja Cat – Get Into It (Yuh) (Planet Her – Album)
This is a great pop song, showcasing both her pop nous and rapping skills. Heavily in debt and paying tribute to Nicki Minaj, this captures the spirit of her earlier releases perfectly, Doja mixing things up with different voices and vocal styles. This is the standout track on the Planet Her (2021) album, which is actually a little on the disappointing side as it needed more songs with the energy of this than it unfortunately contains across it’s runtime.
14. ill peach – UP UP AND AWAY (EXCUSE US WHILE WE FIND OUR MINDS – EP)
Really excited about the future for these guys. Based in Los Angeles, this is taken from only their third release and arrives as a fully formed, forward thinking pop song. The production on this is superb, surrounding the sweet vocal melodies with alternative rock elements, impactful synths that range from floaty to in your face and a hooky keyboard motif, this is the sound of two people with the ability to take something standard and twist and bend it into an entirely new and fascinating shape. Definitely ones to add to your listening lists.
13. Pola & Bryson – Anaesthetist (feat. Strategy) (Anaesthetist – Single)
I’ve been a big fan of all the singles released by drum’n’bass duo Pola & Bryson in 2021 and this one is no exception. Teaming up with UK rapper Strategy gives this a harder, darker edge with a slower pace, allowing for the bassline to really stomp and the snare drum to hit nice and crisp. Their new album drops on the 3rd September and I can’t wait to check that out and see what delights it no doubt holds.
12. The Killers – West Hills (Pressure Machine – Album)
The new Killers album is a really great record, much more lowkey and contained than some of the more bombastic, stadium filling material you often associate with the band. This is the opening track and sets the feel and theme of the album off perfectly. Drawing on their Springsteen influence more than ever, this song, like the album as a whole, showcases what a great writer Brandon Flowers is of human situations and stories. He took inspiration from interviews he conducted with residents of his childhood home of Nephi, Utah, extracts of which intersperse the album. I’m sure they will return to the sounds of their previous releases but I for one am a fan of this more intimate, dare I say, grown up style.
11. Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes – Go Get A Tattoo (feat. Lynks) (Go Get A Tattoo – Single)
Being perfectly honest, I liked Gallows (Frank Carter’s previous band) but didn’t instantly warm to the stuff he was producing with The Rattlesnakes. However, 2021 has changed that. The singles they’ve released so far this year have all been awesome, with this being the best of the lot. This is pop-punk but without the horrible connotation’s that come with that moniker. Catchy, powerful, rabble rousing and containing a good guest rap from Lynks, this one has it all.
10. Kanye West – Believe What I Say (Donda – Album)
Ms. Lauryn Hill on the list, twice in one month?!! Who would have thought?!! This time in the form of a sample from her classic ‘Doo Wop (That Thing)’ by Kanye for his long in gestation, will he/won’t he release it album, Donda (2021) (I’ll cover that in a bit more detail as this list goes on). This is Mr. West in straight up, chart aiming form and for as much of a musical pioneer as he can be, it’s a welcome sound. This could have fit in nicely on either of his first two albums and that’s the style of Kanye that many have missed. This should end up being a big hit for him and hopefully he’ll continue to sprinkle in nuggets like this in amidst the more challenging tracks on future releases.
9. NGHTMRE – MOSH (feat. Smokepurpp) (MOSH – Single)
This is a hip hop banger!! When the beat drops on this it hits hard. Full of electronics weaving into your ear canals and around your brain, it’s a trippy sound that makes the boom of the bass even more impactful. NGHTMRE has been producing some big sounding dance records for years now and coupled with quick paced, boastful raps from Smokepurpp creates the perfect match. Like the title of the song suggests, this has all the elements needed to get a pit whipped up!!
8. Tinashe – Undo (Back To My Heart) (feat. Wax Motif) (333 – Album)
Sometimes all you need is a great pop song and this certainly ticks that box. Produced by Wax Motif, one of the best at this style of music producing today, this is the most assured, slick and downright catchy that Tinashe has ever sounded. I’ve always admired her work but never truly found anything I could say I really loved but this was an instant hit with me as soon as I heard it. Play it loud and enjoy the last days of sunshine before the summers end.
7. Benny The Butcher – Flood The Block (Pyrex Picasso – Album)
Big fan of this New York rapper, he is absolutely killing it at the moment, releasing singles and mini-albums almost monthly, with no sign of the quality wavering. This track is massive, proper old school, hard hitting, street rap – huge drumbeat, scratches and a tough as nails flow from the Butcher, the only downside is that it’s over way too soon. With four months remaining this year, there will no doubt be plenty more Benny The Butcher releases to potentially make the list before it’s over.
6. Halsey – I am not a woman, I’m a god (If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power – Album)
I really wasn’t expecting much from this, having never been a real fan of her previous work. Her new album dropped, not quite as a surprise but without much in the way of promotion. I wouldn’t have paid much attention but I read that Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails) was producing the album alongside frequent collaborator Atticus Ross and suddenly my interest was piqued. I wondered what they would bring to the table and what they’ve helped create is no doubt one of the best pop albums of the year. This track is the highlight, really capturing the edgy-pop that was evident on NIN’s Pretty Hate Machine (1989) and The Downward Spiral (1994) and shining it up to make it even more palatable. Halsey strides along on top of this, never showy but full of passion and power. This has all the ingredients to be an absolute showstopper when performed live.
5. Turnstile – BLACKOUT (GLOW ON – Album)
This band are absolutely on fire right now. Following the incredible Time & Space (2018) album with the superb GLOW ON (2021), they are the most exciting band in rock music currently, perhaps in music as a whole. Continuing their mix of pulverising hardcore riffs, vocal hooks, electronics and an air of Beastie Boys cool, they are really starting to crossover and make an even bigger name for themselves. The new album is sure to feature heavily near the top end of best of the year lists and if these guys get to tour in the U.K. anytime soon then I am undoubtedly going to be there.
4. J Balvin – In Da Getto (feat. Skrillex) (In Da Getto – Single)
This is an absolutely infectious dancefloor banger. Combining the already considerable skills of Reggaeton kingpin J Balvin with what must surely be Skrillex’s most straight up, party friendly production ever, this can’t help but get you moving and put a smile on your face. After being away from the music scene for a fair amount of time, Skrillex is back with a bang in 2021 and has been involved in a handful of awesome releases. This is the most uptempo J Balvin track for awhile and it’s something I’d like to hear more of from him.
3. FINNEAS – A Concert Six Months From Now (A Concert Six Months From Now – Single)
I was definitely not expecting to like this as much as I do. Being the brother of Billie Eilish and so instrumental in the writing and production of her music, perhaps I should have expected something great but the previous material I’d heard by him, whilst solid, hadn’t really struck me. This is a different level, a brilliantly constructed pop song, full of raw emotion and running a gamut of feelings, from longing to sadness to hopefulness to love, it really captures what it means to miss someone and how good it feels to reconnect. And with the state of the world over the past 18 months, I think that’s something a lot of people can relate to. Superb stuff that leaves me wanting to see where he goes next.
2. Andy C – Boom (feat. Tonn Piper) (Boom – Single)
Andy C has been dropping jungle/drum’n’bass classics since the 1990s and is responsible for some incredible remixes. Already being a fan, I had almost just excepted that the man makes quality music. Then he dropped this!! Now, this is the pure definition of a banger!! The bass on this track is ludicrous – when it hits it just sweeps you up and throws you around the room. I was absolutely hooked by this track from the moment (and you’ll know the moment when you hear it) it kicks into the next gear and I just had to listen to it over and over again every time it finished. This was so close to getting this months top spot but then a certain Mr. West dropped his album and it contained something strong enough to drop this down to second place. Any other month this would have walked it but as I said at the top, this was a quality month.
1. Kanye West – Jesus Lord (feat. Jay Electronica & Larry Hoover, Jr.) (Donda – Album)
I have to admit, I was caught up in all the hype for the release of Donda (2021). I’m a big fan of Kanye’s discography, even when his albums don’t always fully work, there’s always something great on there. I was checking daily to see if the album had dropped, a tinge of disappointment when it hadn’t. And then, lo and behold, there it was, it was finally here. The first thing I noticed was it was 27 tracks and 1 hour and 48 minutes long. I knew it could only disappoint as an album as that is without a doubt at least 48 minutes too long!! I was hoping though that there would be a handful of truly great tracks. I wasn’t disappointed on that front. The album is good but could be great with some judicious editing, a different track sequence and an uncensored version being made available. There are some excellent tracks though, this song being the absolute pinnacle. It’s 9 minutes long and the beat and rhythm do not change at any point but the production just grabs you and tugs at your heart and is the best use of the spiritual style that has been creeping in on the last few Kanye releases. What makes this truly special are the vocal performances. Kanye lays his soul bare and you can hear the raw emotion in his voice, Jay Electronica’s verse is incredible, the true justification for all the plaudits that have been laid at his door for so many years. The most affecting of all is the speech from Larry Hoover, Jr. On a record that is very much about loss, redemption, rights, wrongs, the message delivered from the son of an incarcerated gang leader really resonates. This isn’t just a track or a song, this is an absorbing piece of music and just goes to show that when you strip away all the bullshit that comes along with the Kanye West Show, this is a man that can produce material that can be held up alongside the greats.
Here’s the Spotify full 30 list –
Here’s the Apple Music full 30 list –