Photo By: Noah Nickel via Apple Music
This year has seen a resurgence in music after a somewhat underwhelming 2020 release slate. It appears the fruits of pandemic pandemonium are starting to bear in 2021. With that being said, here are the top five songs that have emerged from this year thus far.
5. Little Simz – “Introvert”
UK Femcee extraordinaire Little Simz returned with her sophomore LP Sometimes I Might be Introvert in early September. “Introvert” is a battle-cry of an opening track that inaugurates her stylistic change from the darker, more introspective songs on her 2019 record, Grey Area. Simz opts for epic horns instead of slithery basslines to pummel the listener with the help of bars about empowering women, social disruption, and her own personal struggles keeping up with current day issues.
The massive sound of this song, with its marching-band drum rolls and war-like horns overtop a classic boom-bap beat, is derivative of Kanye’s earlier work; it’s the maximal jazz-rap of The College Dropout with the dopamine highs of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. If you’re a fan of classic hip hop from the 90s and 00s, this is a track you should definitely check out.
4. Magdalena Bay – “You Lose!”
Synthpop duo Magdalena Bay bring forward one of the stranger pop songs of the year in “You Lose!”. The title of the song gives away the video-game aesthetic it reaches to achieve, as psychedelic, 8-bit flourishes and hushed vocals echoing out lyrics like, “You aim, you attack, you lose,” openly celebrating the virtual sheen on this otherwise by-the-numbers synthpop song. It revels its own kitschy lyrics and pulls off a creative clash of form and texture that plays with and dismantles a kind of formulaic, top-40 sound by incorporating experimental distortions, lo-fi guitar plucking and shoegaze-y fuzz in the margins.
3. Lil Ugly Mane – “Benadryl Submarine”
The always enigmatic rapper, producer, and songwriter Lil Ugly Mane surprised listeners with a full-length release titled Volcanic Bird Enemy and the Voiced Concern this October, after a seven year gap since his last album. “Benadryl Submarine” appears early on the album, and as its name suggests, is a wonderful downer, submerged in a languid atmosphere of depressing lyrics. As Ugly Mane refrains the track title into an empty echo he drags you below the surface.
This track blurs genre lines with grunge-y guitar chords holding the song together as shimmery synth keys keep the whole thing from being a one-note downer. For fans of the experimental side of trap found in artists like Bladee or even, strangely enough, fans of 90s Rock; try this song out, you won’t be disappointed.
2. Black Midi – “John L”
Everyone’s favourite cutting-edge rock outfit at the moment brought forward their latest sound in the form of Cavalcade, a chaotic and utterly brilliant record that marries progressive rock with noise music and what feels like a million other things. Black Midi is the proof in the pudding that rock music isn’t dead.
“John L,” which kicks off their latest record, is a vicious display of musicianship. If you feel at any point confused about what exactly is going on, and more importantly, how it’s going on…congratulations, you’ve entered the creative genius of Black Midi.
This track disorients, subverts, falls completely apart with pianos being assaulted and time-signatures in constant disagreement; and then immediately disciplines itself for over-indulgence, returning back to extremely tight grooves and expertly measured textures. It’s hard not to feel like Black Midi are laughing at you, but at the same time at themselves. The message is clear: don’t be discouraged, come join the mess.
1. Injury Reserve – “Superman That”
The Arizona-based hip hop trio are back with their second full-length project: By the Time I Get to Phoenix. It’s no wonder this album has become instantly beloved in the month and change since its release. With the unfortunate passing of member Stepa J. Groggs (Jordan Groggs) on June 29, 2020, everyone was waiting to see how the band would evolve following this loss. Needless to say, the album is a serious masterpiece, pushing the limits of what Rap means in the current landscape. There’s no better testament to this than the second song off the record titled “Superman That”.
Describing this track is difficult but that’s why it, as with the rest of the album, is so clearly an envelope pusher. It’s a skittery, depressing track. You’ll be wondering if this is some kind of glitch-hop track from hell. It may be early to say, but there’s something so 2020s about this song; the overwhelmingness of it and the sadness that creeps through this otherwise anxious, digital overload. This is a sound-collage of transfigured vocals that assault you from all sides; there’s no escaping the pain that’s woven into every shooting, stretching, scratching vocal effect that bludgeons you.