Brevin Kim “It Was Nice To See You” 2023
The brothers Brendan and Callin Paulhus that make up Brevin Kim have a truly remarkable approach to modern music, and the opener “It Was Nice To See You” on their latest full length effort ‘High School Football’ explores that wonderfully. The track has a unique effect on the listener with the gorgeous acoustic guitar, angelic strings, and the modern well produced beats. The almost emo, alternative styled vocals really add to the sound and create depth. The backing sounds and production techniques are strong and give yet another layer to this beautifully designed song. Adding the deep, growling synth bass to close the song really takes it out on a high note.
The Album Leaf “Breathe” 2023
Jimmy LaValle of The Album Leaf is my favorite current electronic music producer and for great reason. His latest full length ‘Future Falling’ features the minimal piano based beauty “Breathe” which has by far the most emotionally compelling and powerful piano arrangement of the year. The minimal electronic additions he adds throughout the just shy of six minute runtime really add to the depth of the track and allow for this to be the perfect backdrop to a film or life’s most innately intimate moments. This song makes me feel everything from a more glorified and personal perspective.
Sunnsetter “At the End of the Day” 2023
Sunnsetter whom have my favorite album of the year so far in ‘The Best That I Can Be.’ are so emotionally charged and perfectly capable of creating a melancholic masterpiece give us “At the End of the Day”. This track is part The Album Leaf and part Sigur Rós, who notably collaborated together. The title resonates with the music therein by coming off as a perfect song to drown out all the noise of the day behind us. The acoustic guitar is incredibly beautiful and the overlapping synths provide an atmosphere of harmony. The vocals are cathartic and are not to be understood, but are used merely as an expression of understated instrumentation.
The National “Once Upon a Poolside (feat. Sufjan Stevens)” 2023
The new album by The National, which I had the pleasure of listening to at the album release party, opens with the glorious “Once Upon a Poolside (feat. Sufjan Stevens)” which incorporates gorgeous, emotionally led piano arrangements and minimal backing synths. It then leads into Sufjan Stevens incredible backing vocals which is a certain highlight of the album. “Is this how this whole thing is going to end?” asks Matt Berninger in a wonderfully sang moment on one of the strongest albums of the year so far. The vocals on this track are extremely strong and though the songwriting and lyrical content may not live up to ‘Alligator’ or ‘Boxer’ era, it’s still better than almost all modern musicians.
Hayden “Window Washer Blues” 2023
It’s been a decade since Hayden had to dispel rumors of his death and he’s back with a new album titled ‘Are We Good’ and the piano driven, film score styled “Window Washer Blues” would fit perfectly on the Jon Brion produced ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’ soundtrack. The piano is the best I’ve heard all year and is nearly impossible not to play on repeat once it gets driven into your head and your heart. It’s essentially about playing outside with his kids and coming to a sort of realization. The backing creeks really add to the intimacy and I’m glad he left those in as they create a more organic sound that matches the perfectly mixed orchestration.
Sunnsetter “In the Ocean” 2023
Sunnsetter has a magnificent new album out titled ‘The Best That I Can Be.’ that features the song “In the Ocean” which is a well toned acoustic guitar, layers of production and gorgeous melodies. The repeated “in the ocean” lyric drifts and sways underneath swirled beautiful instrumentation. The backing guitar underneath is really spectacular and the piano adds depth and an intimate feel to an already melancholic track.
Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness “Submarine” 2023
Andrew McMahon has completely hit his stride on track 4 of ‘Tilt At The Wind No More’ his latest full length effort. “Submarine” is a brilliant display of electronic beats, emotional poetic lyrical content and gorgeous vocals with repeated echos spilling into the background. The production quality is incredibly well done and sharp as a tack. The overall effect of the song is uplifting while maintaining a melancholic edge.
Manchester Orchestra “Capital Karma” 2023
Manchester Orchestra is Andy Hull’s brainchild and his vocals are so original in tone and harmony. The latest album ‘The Valley of Vision’ by the rock outfit is intimate in nature and less rock oriented, relying heavily on piano, especially on the opener “Capital Karma” which features overlapped vocals, gorgeous production value within the keys and synths, and a beautiful outro of a falsetto voice. The repeated sample that sounds like it was recorded on an answering machine really adds to the texture and beauty of this track.
M83 “Radar, Far, Gone” 2023
Anthony Gonzales of M83 is back with a new album ‘Fantasy’ and the stand-out track “Radar, Far, Gone” is a slow burner with gorgeous intimate vocals. The acoustic guitar shines brilliantly throughout the 4 minute runtime. The piano perfectly encapsulates the emotion needed to bring this song to the high level it achieves. This may be the most complete song in M83’s eclectic electronic discography. The songwriting is indie-rock in nature and comes across as a piano ballad which is absolutely breathtaking.
The National “New Order T-Shirt” 2023
The latest single by The National, “New Order T-Shirt” opens with a beautifully produced acoustic guitar and Matt Berninger’s classic vocal style before adding layers of percussion and backing synths. The percussion then picks up a bit and you can hear pretty backing vocals from Mina Tindle. The songwriting sounds closer to mid-oughts The National than their previously released electronically centered first single, “Tropic Morning News”. The bridge has a wonderful minimal feel and helps direct us to the later half of the gorgeous track. Overall, this is extremely exciting because it gives way to what is to come on ‘First Two Pages of Frankenstein’ which happens to be our most anticipated full length release of 2023.
The Reds, Pinks and Purples “3rd Flower” 2023
The Reds, Pinks and Purples have released the ‘Dust in the Path of Love’ EP and it features the unbelievably gorgeous instrumental “3rd Flower” which includes perfectly produced guitars with magnificent tones and backing synth pads that lay the groundwork. The way you can get lost in this instrumental is remarkable and worth repeated listens that pay you back tenfold. ‘3rd Flower’ really makes you ponder and look within, as do the best songs, and there’s something special about how lo-if it comes off while retaining sublime production quality.
Sun Kil Moon “Black Perch” 2023
Mark Kozelek is my favorite living songwriter and for great reason. Most of it has to do with what he has done through his Sun Kil Moon solo project and since he has a new song for the first time since taking 2022 off, I am immensely drawn to his glorious performance. “Black Perch” features his gorgeous acoustic guitar, second to none songwriting and the strongest vocals that currently exist. He has toned down the diary-style approach and leaned more into his intimate story telling. He speaks on fishing, Raymond Carver and being out of work, and it nearly brought me to tears the first time hearing it. This is unquestionably some of the highest end songwriting that is taking shape in 2023.
Beth Orton “Friday Night” 2022
Beth Orton self produced her latest album ‘Weather Alive’ which being a musician who produces their work makes me respect her on an entirely different level than artists who enlist producers to do the dirty work. Her song “Friday Night” is perfectly produced and the songwriting is gorgeous. The percussion has a wonderfully simple beat and the the synths and vocals provide glorious arrangements and melodies. The lyrics “forgot that we’d wake up and it’d all be real, it’d still be real” is such an emotional experience and with repeated listens it really unravels.
Will Sheff “In the Thick of It” 2022
As the piano opens track two on ‘Nothing Special’ by Will Sheff, the chief songwriter and only constant member of Okkervil River, you instantly know that this is something very special. As soon as he starts singing and the songwriting takes shape, it’s brilliant and beaming with life. The baseline is well done and the backing vocals really add to the intimacy. Adding in the acoustic guitar really brings more life to the track and soon you’re so enthralled in its beauty you can’t help but smile, or cry.
Lambchop “So There” 2022
“So There” taken from ‘The Bible’ by Lambchop is an incredible piano ballad with almost speak singing vocals with a bit of auto-tune, a shaker with reverb and a wonderfully produced click that sounds like windshield wipers used for production purposes. The clap that comes in at the end really adds value to the production value and overall the song brings out so much emotion. The lyrics “to be civil, to be gentle, to be honest, to be kind” are very inspiring and make me want to utilize them to help become a better person and a song that makes you want to do that is extraordinary.
Greg Dulli “I Would Die 4 U/Baby I’m a Star” 2022
One of my favorite current songwriters, Greg Dulli, has taken on the ‘Purple Rain’ classics “I Would Die 4 U” and “Baby I’m a Star” which Prince penned. The former being written from the perspective of Jesus to His followers, and the later is one of the songs Prince performed during the Super Bowl halftime. Greg Dulli has captivated the listener by bringing these two songs together to form one incredible cover. The guitar tone and keys are perfect, the vocals soar and crack in all the right places. The shaker is mixed noticeably loud and is essentially the percussion element in the song, though it works beautifully. The strings glide through the song in a gorgeous manner and make the song feel exhilarating.
Smidley “In Poor Taste” 2022
Smidley is Foxing’s Conor Murphy, and in his own right, he is a great modern songwriter as we’ve seen from his main band. His latest solo album features the gorgeously produced “In Poor Taste” at track 7, which includes emotionally driven strings, intimately recorded guitar parts and simplified but perfectly placed percussion. The reversed strings, and guitar picking intro is a killer way to open such a beautiful song. The standout vocal parts have to be the scream-singing that brings the song to a level not seen by anyone in 2022.
S. Carey “Where I Was” 2022
S. Carey, who is also the drummer of Bon Iver, is force to be reckoned with, and after reviewing his incredible album ‘Break Me Open’ it’s impossible not to keep coming back to the gorgeous track “Where I Was” which is just devout songwriting at its core. “If you judge, please don’t judge me from where I was, but if you must, please do, judge me from where I am” are superb lyrics and an incredible ask from someone who can pen a relenting ballad. The vocals are perfectly produced with light effects and the reverb really catches at all the right times. The guitar tone is brilliant and very intimate. The highly effected backing vocals that end the song bring out something wonderfully experimental and fresh.
Oceanator “Morning” 2022
Great post-rock may seem like a thing of the past, or a forgotten genre, but every so often a band churns out a number that not only captivates but is ethereal and inspiring. Oceanator have a new album titled ‘Nothing’s Ever Fine’ out on Polyvinyl and the opener “Morning” is blissful and extremely well produced post-rock. It may only clock in at just over 2 minutes which makes for a perfect intro, but it’s impossible to ignore the beauty it holds, which begs to be replayed time after time. The guitar tone is brilliant and the repetition really draws you in. Overall it’s a perfect way to open an album and as a standalone track, it’s some of the best instrumental rock of the year.
Field Medic “Stained Glass” 2022
The first time I heard a snippet of Field Medic’s “Stained Glass” was the “when the light hits” section on the Run for Cover Records instagram, and I was automatically floored. I knew for a fact I was going to love the song and now that I’ve listened to it on repeat for a while, I can say it’s easily one of the strongest songs of the year and the best Field Medic song to date. The acoustic guitar is gorgeously played, the backing guitars are mixed perfectly and the synths really add to the depth of the track. Field Medic is Kevin Patrick Sullivan and his songwriting is usually pretty strong but he has gone above and beyond on this track, including some of my favorite lyrics in “I know this ain’t God punishing me”. The way he sings that part is unbelievably gorgeous, and timeless. The percussion picks up the song halfway through and he speak sings repeated lines that really add to the intimacy of the structure. This is a song that demands repeated listens and only grows and grows on you with each one.
The Afghan Whigs “Please, Baby, Please” 2022
Greg Dulli of The Afghan Whigs is one of the best songwriters of our time. He’s majestic with his lyrical value and his vocal arrangements are sheer beauty. The new album ‘How Do You Burn?’ features “Please, Baby, Please” which incorporates a relaxed percussion pattern, lo-fi organ and gorgeous guitar licks. It demands repeated listens and it only grows on you which each one. His scruffy vocals and evocative singing style instantly puts you in your feels. His solo album ‘Random Desire’ was my favorite album of 2020 and this track is equally as brilliant as the best tracks on his solo effort.
The National “Weird Goodbyes (feat. Bon Iver)” 2022
The first single from the upcoming album by The National started out as just a beat and has evolved into a full blown indie-rock slow burner featuring Bon Iver on backing vocals. The piano adds an element of intimacy and really makes it sound like a proper song by The National. The vocals are crisp and well produced, and the lyrics may not be as perfect as ‘Alligator’ and ‘Boxer’ years but they are very strong in their own regard. As Matt tells us to “move forward now” and speaks on his “windshield crying” you can tell this is a very emotional output from arguably the strongest band in music of the last 15+ years.
Sylvan Esso “How Did You Know” 2022
Sylvan Esso have a new full length titled ‘No Rules Sandy’ and the standout track is “How Did You Know” which features one of the best beats of the year. It may sound simple at its core but it’s full of substance and the soft spoken vocals really add to the intimacy. The pulsating synths that form the structure of the song really come alive once the bass sets in. The hi-hat then sets it apart with the build up and repeated vocals allow for you to get lost in the song. The end of the song happens to be my favorite part due to the way it all comes together flawlessly.
Cass McCombs “Unproud Warrior” 2022
Cass McCombs has created a wonderful listening experience with his song “Unproud Warrior.” It instantly has a classic feel and seems like it will stand the test of time as well. The songwriting is perfection and a grand tale of a military soldier. The percussion is blues inspired and the production value is very high but not too polished wherein it takes away from the intimacy. Cass’ vocals really stand out and shine throughout the 6 and a half minutes runtime. The stringed instruments come alive near the middle of the track and bring in the second half of the story. He goes on to explain writers who had their masterpiece published at a young ripe age. The chorus sticks in your heads even though it is not deemed “catchy.” This is top notch, quality songwriting and encapsulates an era of soldiers in a very beautiful way.
Wy “High Score” 2022
Wy are a duo with a new 3 song single. The centerpiece is the brilliant “High Score” which features perfectly produced guitars, simplified masterful song structure. The opening guitar is reminiscent of Frightened Rabbit. The vocals build and explode like a firework in the sky. “I’m the sequel in the trilogy” is a thoughtful lyric that could mean many things and it makes me think, which I love. The songwriting is some of the best we’ve seen this year by anyone. The post-rock end captures the essence of where the song was headed and begs for you to come back for more. It is a replay-able song on so many levels.
Stars “Snowy Owl” 2022
It’s great to know that Stars are still making records, as they have been putting out quality music for over two decades. They are part of the Broken Social Scene supergroup and their latest full length sounds as if it is going to be their best in since the mid 2000’s. The final number “Snowy Owl” of their upcoming album ‘From Capelton Hill’ is a slow burning acoustic track with an intimate approach and wonderful vocal melodies. The acoustic guitar is recorded brilliantly and has a beautiful tone to it, that matches up with the orchestral arrangements. I can envision this song being the perfect ender on this album.
David Gray “The Arc” 2022
David Gray is one of the most talented songwriters of the last quarter century and his latest single “The Arc” certainly does not disappoint. The gorgeous production value matched with the alluring vocals bridge the gap between rock and pop seamlessly. The overrally output of music he has developed is otherworldly and this new single really shines with the gorgeous piano, background sounds and distant vocals. The way he sings “Now I’m burning” really pulls you in and allows you to feel the burning inside that he so desperately speaks on.
Bloc Party “Of Things Yet to Come” 2022
Bloc Party are an indie-rock giant and their latest full length album ‘Alpha Games’ includes the divine “Of All Things Yet to Come” which includes a perfect guitar riff, modern rock percussion and strong vocals from songwriter, Kele. The bass line that comes through in the second half is amazing and fits the glittery guitars wonderfully. There are highly valued touches throughout, like the echoed parts mixed in the background, as well as the Bono-esque falsetto outro. This is the most beautiful song from ‘Alpha Games’ as well as the strongest song they have released in years.
The Smile “Skrting On the Surface” 2022
The last song on the upcoming debut album by The Smile, “Skrting On the Surface,” sounds more like Radiohead than recent Radiohead. That’s because The Smile is made up of Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood who are the prominent members of Radiohead and they have even enlisted their trusted producer Nigel Godrich for this project as well. Overall the single is gorgeous and restrained. Jonny’s guitar glows and Thom’s vocals are absolutely incredible in their own right. Tom Skinner’s percussion fits beautifully within the songwriting as well. The production quality is extremely high end but not too polished and adds to the dramatic effect of the track.
Kurt Vile “Chazzy Don’t Mind” 2022
Kurt Vile, the odd, awkward, indie-rock musician who has written some modern classics has a new album out titled ‘(watch my moves)’ and the tenth track is perfect indie-folk-rock. The lyrics cover his thoughts of skateboarding while walking, and how his teapot “sings in a beautiful falsetto.” The instrumentation is exquisite in its simplicity and has an appealing accessibility for modern indie-rock. The harmonizations throughout and that end the song are sang much stronger than I’ve come to expect from Kurt Vile.
Thom Yorke “5.17” 2022
Thom Yorke has created an expansive yet minimal beauty with his new song “5.17” as the piano’s production is gorgeous and his vocals deliver on every level. It’s honestly what’s come to be expected by one of our modern great singer-songwriters. The intimacy truly reverberates throughout the 4 minute runtime and the ghostly ambience adds to the layered sadness.
Bear’s Den “Shadows” 2022
In what is the most intimately gorgeous song of the year comes Bear’s Den’s “Shadows” which is awe inspiring and grandiose. There is no song I have listened to more this year and for great reason. The singing is perfection and the production value brings out the beauty of the percussion and synths. The strings add to the dynamics and the repeated piano part is wonderfully repeated. The chorus just hugs your heart and demands for a repeated listen.
Dashboard Confessional “Young” 2022
Dashboard Confessional have finally reached the acoustic high-high of the early 2000’s with their new song “Young.” It is picked and produced incredibly and carries a lot of weight for being such a minimal song. The singing is crisp and intimate. The emotion explodes from the speakers in the most soft way. The question Chris Carrabba so desperately wants answered is “will you be my heart?”
William Ryan Key “Union Chapel” 2022
William Ryan Key has created an exquisite ender with “Union Chapel” which finalizes the ‘Everything Except Desire’ EP. The pretty piano opens the track and then Ryan’s heartfelt vocals begin. The synths are produced wonderfully and the strings really bring out another dimension of the emotion. The production quality has a Jon Hopkins style to it and with repeated listens you can hear the quality of the beat work and the layers of electronics. A truly gorgeous effort.
40 Watt Sun “Behind My Eyes” 2022
40 Watt Sun’s latest album of dreamy sadcore indie-rock contains the brilliant “Behind My Eyes” which is the closest I’ve heard to a Red House Painters song in two decades. The songwriting is skilled and the production is equally as important. The singing style grows on you with each listen and the guitars are wonderful in tone and approach.
Our Lady Peace “Temporary Healing” 2022
Our Lady Peace have released ‘Spiritual Machines II’ 20 years after ‘Spiritual Machines’ and the ender “Temporary Healing” is absolutely gorgeous and produced wonderfully. The percussion perfectly fits the songwriting and vocals. The guitars have a great tone and the synths are mixed top notch. Overall the song gets caught in my head continuously and makes me listen to it throughout the day.
Pedro the Lion “Stranger” 2022
Pedro the Lion has been making breathtaking music for over two decades, and his new album ‘Havasu’ contains the perfect “Stranger.” The songwriting is the best I’ve heard in 2 years and it details youth at a roller rink. The nostalgic feeling it pushes through is intimate and deep. The production value is exquisite with its superbly produced percussion elements, and guitar tone. The vocals are real and raw and not too effected. I haven’t heard such an emotional song in some time and it rewards with each repeated listen.
Field Guide “Sparks (feat. Dizzy)” 2021
Field Guide has covered Coldplay’s debut album ‘Parachutes’ in full and what an amazing experience it has been listening to his take on “Sparks.” The baseline is perfectly recorded and the percussion production matches the songwriting perfectly. Field Guide has enlisted Dizzy to sing backup vocals and the output they have created is intimate and gorgeous. An incredible cover.
American Football & Miya Folick “Fade Into You” 2021
Mazzy Star’s “Fade Into You” is one of the strongest written songs of all time and the seminal emo band American Football headed by Mike Kinsella have taken it on headstrong. They have enlisted Miya Folick who recently sang a duo with Petey. The cover is grandiose and maximum beauty. The effort is recognized from all parties and the production is classic American Football, so there’s no complaints there. Mike’s voice really shines here, as he has full control over the emotion and intimacy.
Sun June “Colors” 2021
“Colors” is the most intimate and expressive song Sun June has on their latest LP, ‘Somewhere’ and it’s for good reason they chose to keep the best for last. The waves in the background, the gentle acoustic guitar and the gorgeous piano are all mixed perfectly. The subdued singing style plays off the songwriting perfectly. The lo-fi nature of the track really adds to the overall outcome.
Parannoul, Asian Glow & sonhos tomam conta “Insomnia” 2021
Insomnia is not fun to experience but “Insomnia” by Parannoul, Asian Glow & sonhos tomam conta is an emo powerhouse. The buildup of fast paced beats to the climax with the splendid vocals really shines bright, the percussion is produced wonderfully and the guitars ring true to the songwriting style. The overall effect is arguably the greatest emo song of 2021 and is undeniably important.
Beach House “Over and Over” 2021
Beach House have officially reached the perfection of ‘Teen Dream’ with the understated beauty of “Over and Over” which is taken from their upcoming double album ‘Once Twice Melody.’ The synths are produced very high end and Victoria’s vocals shine. What’s most thrilling about this track is the outro that demands to be played on repeat over and over.
Casper Skulls “Stay the Same” 2021
Casper Skulls have released an album ‘Knows No Kindness’ and the ender “Stay the Same” is a very intimate and well executed number that encapsulates the album in a really honorable way. The piano sounds fragmented and the vocals have a strength behind them that really add to the effect. The beauty within this tracks begs to be experienced and really makes you feel like you are part of their journey.
The National “Somebody Desperate” 2021
The National are one of the greatest current bands and their new soundtrack number “Somebody Desperate” is a slow burner that grows on you with each listen. Matt’s vocals are beautifully baritone and restrained. The gorgeous build-up in instrumentals really adds to the feeling the song evokes. The piano is intimate and produced wonderfully, and the songwriting is amazing as usual.
Casper Skulls “Monument” 2021
Casper Skulls open “Monument” with simple percussion that seemingly drives the song forward. Once the exquisitely produced guitar comes in you then realize this is going to be a song to remember. The gorgeous vocals then bring the songwriting to the forefront, and for a moment it all drops off except the drums like the opening. Then the insanely amazing chorus comes in and blows the lid off the whole thing.
Nation of Language “A Word & a Wave” 2021
Nation of Language easily has the best arpeggios of the year. The expressive and brilliant “A Word & a Wave” is a shining example of the clearly perfectly produced synths and the dramatic electronic beats really add to the final result. A beautiful take on modern electronica with a slow burn vocal take.
David Gray “Laughing Gas” 2021
“Laughing Gas” is one of my favorite songs of the year, as the piano is intimate and glorious. The way the vocals match the songwriting is perfect and on another level in terms of music this year. David Gray is truly a timeless talent and one of the greatest creators of the the last 20+ years. I consistently stay inspired by his works and he’s had an unprecedented premier music for the second time this year.
Sam Himself “The Missing” 2021
“The Missing” taken from Sam Himself’s latest album ‘Power Ballads’ is a brilliant slow burner with a bright and twinkling chorus. The vocals have a similar style to Matt Berninger of The National but not quite as baritone. The result is gorgeous and the production value is extremely high. The synths are perfectly balanced to the simplified beats. The effected strings and arpeggios really add to the strength of the track.
Sylvie “Falls on me” 2021
Sylvie’s single for their upcoming self-titled EP is an instant classic in its conception and gorgeous in its inner workings. It would sound amazing on vinyl or in a television show set in the past. The songwriting is very strong and the opening vocals floor me every time I hear them. The instrumentation is exquisitely written and produced.
Saint Etienne “I Remember It Well” 2021
“I Remember It Well” by Saint Etienne taken from their new album ‘I’ve Been Trying to Tell You’ is production perfection and exactly what I love about instrumental music. It’s pure unabashed beauty, with the voiceover samples and found-sound. The guitars are crunchy and the tone is incredible. The emotion felt when listening to this song is just overwhelming.
Keaton Henson “Limb” 2021
Keaton Henson’s latest release is an EP titled ‘Fragments’ and the second track is “Limb” which is perfectly produced and beautifully intimate. The melancholy is flowing from the lips of Keaton Henson and the result of his singing style nearly brings you to tears. An incredible effort in songwriting and the listening experience demands to be remembered.
Moonroof “Broken” 2021
Moonroof have created an ethereal, minimal alt-pop beauty with “Broken.” The vocals are sang very well and the falsetto is charming. The guitars shine and then turn to post-rock near the end with the gorgeous “oh’s and ah’s” sang above them. The percussion carries the chorus extremely well and overall it’s easy to play this on repeat.
Hayden Thorpe “Parallel Kingdom” 2021
Wild Beasts always fascinated me but never have they hit the high-high that lead singer Hayden Thorpe has on his solo single “Parallel Kingdom.” The electro-pop is extremely replay-able. The production is exquisite and he has supremely talented vocal range. The 2:40 mark where he name drops the song is one of my favorite parts of the year.
Liars “Big Appetite” 2021
Liars are one of the most polarizing bands on the face of the earth and their new song “Big Appetite” is carried by an impeccable guitar riff and incredible lazy sounding vocals. The production is immaculate and makes you extremely excited to hear the rest of the upcoming, ‘The Apple Drop’ album.
Sufjan Stevens & Angelo De Augustine “Olympus” 2021
Sufjan Stevens is back with a tune as wonderful and elegant as songs taken from ‘Seven Swans’ and ‘Illinois’ and when he says “there’s no place like home” it’s one of the most beautiful sang lyrics of the year. The songwriting is glorious and captivating and Sufjan’s voice never wavers. The ongoing plucking is lo-fi and one of my favorite produced instruments of the year as well.
TORRES “Thirstier” 2021
TORRES is easily one of the strongest musicians currently in the business. Her new single “Thirstier” is an epic, fascinating song. It starts like a Michelle Branch song from two decades ago, then it breaks open into the best indie-rock instrumentals of the year. The vocals soar and the songwriting is poignant.
Azure Ray “Remedy” 2021
With “Remedy” Azure Ray are back with their strongest song in 20 years since “Rise” from their debut. The beauty surrounds the production value, and the songwriting is glorious as the lyrics “for all the devils that dance under the sun / you’re a remedy or there’s none” is very spiritually uplifting. The acoustic guitars bounce wonderfully off the intimate vocals.
Coldplay “Higher Power (Acoustic Version)” 2021
Coldplay is one of the greatest bands of the last two decades and they are not slowing down anytime soon. “Higher Power” is a nice song, very catchy and poppy but the acoustic version is basically perfect. Much more intimate and emotional. When the song fully opens up at 2:30 it becomes clear that Chris Martin’s voice is one of the strongest in the game.
Skullcrusher “Song for Nick Drake” 2021
To be honest, Skullcrusher is a musician I haven’t been able to fully understand in terms of songwriting but I could see that the talent is there. Her latest song from ‘Storm in Sunmer’ EP changed that and is wonderfully realized in production, songwriting and the message is brilliant in that Nick Drake is my all-time favorite musician. The vocals are youthful with slight reverb yet they still sound organic. The instrumentation is scattered at times and very calming in terms of carrying an overarching beauty.
Damien Jurado “Male Customer #1” 2021
Damien Jurado creates amazing work year in and year out, substantial amounts of quality work makes him quite the artist. His reflective music is represented extremely well on the ender “Male Customer #1” of his latest album, ‘The Monster Who Hated Pennsylvania.’ The result is beautiful, acoustic rock written about a failed relationship and how it’s time to move on. This songwriting is what has made him the exquisite musician he is recognized as today.
CARM “Song of Trouble (feat. Sufjan Stevens)” 2021
“Song of Trouble” is an incredible opener on CARM’s latest self-titled full length effort. Starting off with glorious brass and wind instrumentation and falling into a lo-fi plucking loop that plays perfectly with Sufjan Stevens’ masterful vocal abilities and songwriting techniques. The result is overwhelming with genuine execution. This is one of those times that vocals, songwriting, production and arranging all wrap up neatly with a bow.
Wy “Dream House” 2021
‘Marriage’ the upcoming album from Wy is the album I am most excited for. They are currently firing on all cylinders, production, songwriting and arranging. “Dream House” which will be the 8th cut on ‘Marriage’ is indie-pop perfection. The drum machine beat is reminiscent of prime Future Islands and the songwriting gives me my School of Seven Bells fix. When she says “it doesn’t matter where I am or what we do” it couldn’t have been sung better and it leads into the song picking up steam with overlapping vocals and a louder synth with beautiful production quality.
David Gray “Skellig” 2021
David Gray has been one of the most consistent musicians of the last few decades. His guitar work is sheer beauty like on the instant masterpiece “January Rain” taken from the Serendipity soundtrack. With the title track from his latest full length effort, “Skellig” he has outdone himself once again. The guitar is tragic and bursting with substance. His singing is restrained and the electronic elements from his 2019 effort are all but gone. The way the song ruminates through speakers is it’s calling you to a quiet, crashing shore.
Nick Cave & Warren Ellis “Albuquerque” 2021
Nick Cave has created some of the most beautifully haunted songs ever, and since the unfortunate passing of his son, he has been creating timeless music like a mad man. With “Albuquerque” from his latest full-length, accompanied by Warren Ellis, he has created an exquisite song about not being able to travel. The piano tone and production is perfect, the strings are bright and sad at the same time. The genuine quality of work that has went into this song alone is admirable, but Nick seems to pull this off with ease.
Gia Margaret “Solid Heart” 2021
Gia Margaret delivers one of the best songs of the last few years with “Solid Heart.” It’s a stampede on your heart that seems to claw at your nostalgia and teen angst. It’s a familiar chorus that you’ve never actually heard. Such a beautiful way of blending the the guitar with the easy going drum percussion section. The lo-fi production on her vocals serve as a sort of instrument as well, and carry her floaty voice into oblivion.
Loney Dear “Habibi (A clear black line)” 2021
Loney Dear is one of my favorite indie musicians and has consistently had one of my favorite songs of the year with every album. “Habibi (A clear black line)” is brilliant and has an emotional quality to it that you’d be hard pressed to find in another artist these days. The songwriting is as authentic as it gets. The piano is produced wonderfully and his vocals are sang with the perfect falsetto. This is the type of song you could put on late at night and with a warm cup of tea and be in perfect serenity. Though this song may not be for everyone, I couldn’t think of any way to improve it and find myself constantly going back to it, as no other song can give this special quality.