2021 Song Round-up: Points for Style
The year isn’t over yet but with Debate wrapping up, I wanted to run through some of the coolest music from this year that highlights the wealth of styles on offer you should try. Check out the list below, or dive straight into the playlist so when someone next asks what you listen to, you can say “everything” and almost mean it.
White Ceiling by Parannoul
As I’ve written plenty about music in Debate this year I wanted to avoid this list being a rehash of what I’ve already covered. But, I’ll make an exception for this track. ‘White Ceiling’ is the noise rock anthem for our times and our generation. Over ten minutes, it scrunches up, tears open, and tosses out every emotion we’ve had to process in the interior of our minds and our rooms over the past few years staring at white ceilings, feeling powerless while the world outside continues to crumble. Was it always like this? Were we lied to? Parannoul takes his wall-of-sound approach to the extreme on this track with an extended outro made up of a vignette of samples from the movies and shows that inspired him, from alarms going off to kids shouting at each other. It’s loud, it’s defiant, and it’s a little bit inspiring.
Dancing Away In Tears by Yola
Crying in the club, but make it vintage. I’m not the biggest fan of sad music that sounds sad, if that makes sense. This is why I love Yola’s bittersweet soul anthem, a forward-thinking homage to the pop music of the 70s. So swap that rain cloud over your head for a disco ball, and sing along as she bids farewell to the ones that got away.
Lekki Aiah Freeway by Emeka Ogboh
The musical tradition of styles like IDM and ambient intersect with field recordings taken from Lagos on ‘Lekki Aiah Freeway’. Emeka Ogboh is the Berlin-based, Nigerian sound and installation artist responsible for this hypnotic song which sets the tone and pace for his album Beyond The Yellow Haze. Layers of rhythm anchor this portrait of a city without ever becoming overwhelming for the listener. Anyone with an interest in experimental music should give this a try.
Chicharonnes featuring Quelle Chris, by Armand Hammer
What better name for a song about cops than a dish made from fried pork belly. Hip hop has always been an essential voice for challenging the police, but few songs are as thorough in its indictment of police not only as an institution, but across all dimensions including our internalised carceral mindset and punitive values we may hold. With an ominous, downtempo beat from The Alchemist, ‘Chicharronnes’ embodies the cover of Armand Hammer’s Haram the best as we continue our descent into that which is taboo in the U.S.A. Quelle Chris’s feature is excellent too; equal parts playful and threatening, as it is unimpressed, he catalogues the shortcomings of modern American politics. For a group that tends to favour dense, abstract lyricism, ‘Chicharronnes’ shows that Armand Hammer is just as capable of putting a song together where every line is a mic-drop. “I never bought in, so when it go left, it’s no loss,” indeed.
besitos, cuídate by Princesa Alba
Just when I thought I was going to exit the year without having a pop album to obsess over, I found Princesa Alba’s debut, which kicks off with this gem of a song. With a beat that took notes from the early 2000s, this dance-pop bop from Chile is an unapologetic, good time.
S.E. Gang featuring Westside Gunn and Benny the Butcher, by Conway the Machine
Even under the boot of the modern music industry, the artistry of hip hop music continues to thrive, and holding up the pillar of boombap through gangster rap is the Buffalo collective Griselda. Often operating solo, it’s always worth looking forward to the tracks where the three rappers at the centre of Griselda’s success come together. Over a cinematic electric guitar sample, Westside Gunn, Conway the Machine, and Benny the Butcher do what they do best by sharing bars about their exploits in-between some of the catchiest ad libs in the game right now. Simply put, ‘S.E. Gang’ is a victory lap from a group that wants you to know there’s only more to come.
You Can’t Expect The Cars To Stop If You Haven’t Pressed The Button by India Jordan
It may be some time before we hit the dance floor again, but don’t let that stop you from taking this song with you on your next walk or adding it to your cardio playlist because this is a song for moving. The premise of the song is simple: refer to the song title, and Jordan plays with that feeling of tensely waiting your turn and the motion of the cars going past by attaching a sample of a pedestrian crossing signal to a delightfully percussive beat. Waiting at the lights can sometimes feel like a chore, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun. Extracting joy from the mundane, ‘You Can’t Expect…’ is an understated hit of energy.
family ties featuring Kendrick Lamar by Baby Keem
Baby Keem’s album came and went, but at least we got this single out of it. Everyone tends to focus on Kendrick’s contribution, and not wrongly so, but it’s Keem’s song through and through. Starting with a staggered delivery that switches up while finding a new pocket each time, ‘family ties’ is Keem at his best as a rapper – the rare song where you have no idea where it’s going in the best way possible on your first listen while also being stubbornly replayable.
Msn Ur Luv (Club Mix) featuring AP, Tei, by bb gurl
Music nerds and tastemakers need to step up their game because it is a crime that a song this well-polished and well-made has gone under the radar. At the very least it should have been a hit with the crowd that calls anything slightly experimental and catchy ‘hyperpop’, a necessary sacrifice for any autotune-loving artist trying to find their target audience in the 2020s. Between the chopped and screwed beat-switch that announces Tei’s entrancing outro, to AP’s musings about relationships, bb gurl put together a banger that deserves more love and then some.
Zari by Jaubi, Latarnik, Tenderlonious
Picking a song to highlight from Jaubi’s album Nafs at Peace was challenging – each track shows a different face of the musical blend they’re working with. Mixing jazz with Hindustani classical music, this group from Pakistan always feels like they’re in complete control without appearing rigid and inflexible, either. Even as a layperson to the genres they’re primarily drawing from here, I found plenty to enjoy. On the penultimate track ‘Zari’, a gentle flute line from Tenderlonious makes way for a genuinely fun melody that’s stretched out over a sarangi solo.
ALLTIME by VINXEN
99 times out of 100, rock and mumble rap would be a recipe for disaster. This is the 1/100. I’m not sure why this song works so well, but full credit to VINXEN for demonstrating how to make the most of a song which seamlessly switches between a trap beat and a rock drum pattern. Mumble rap is one of modern music’s biggest scapegoats, and songs like these prove that the problem isn’t in any one technique or style, but how you use it. Much like how autotune is effective, or not, depending on the artist, VINXEN finds a way to make his style of rapping incomprehensibly compelling.