Chvrches outright wins my "Album of the Summer" title with their recent release Screen Violence. They might be my favorite active artists (although that's a tough call), and I've loved every one of their albums, to the point where it's genuinely difficult for me to rank them. I will say that this one felt both darker and more dramatic in tone while also being pop-ish in actual sound, which is an interesting balance to hit. As far as specific songs go, I think the first seven are all pretty stellar, with the final three only being a minor slowdown, but "How To Not Drown" is now one of my favorite songs in their discography. The big ringing piano chords, the building tension, the soaring vocals on the chorus, every part of it is just incredible, and Robert Smith provides the perfect guest vocals in a match made in heaven. I knew that one would have to be on the playlist, but it was genuinely difficult to pick two other songs to go with it, though, the rest of them are just so strong.
My runners-up for album of the summer: SAWAYAMA by Rina Sawayama is pop that dabbles in a bunch of different styles and goes super hard in each experiment, and it’s a joy to listen to as a result; it’s genuinely difficult to pick songs to represent it, because it covers such a wide range of sounds. We Are the Union’s Ordinary Life is a ska-pop punk bit that never drags, and hits nice heights with songs like “Make It Easy” and “Morbid Obsessions”. And Porter Robinson’s long-awaited second album Nurture is a little on the long side, but I think avoids getting too dragged down by its length, with top tracks “Mirror” and “Something Comforting” (they were singles, so they made my 2020 list) swooping in to provide a big climax.
I don't know what to make of Bleachers' new album, Take the Sadness Out of Saturday Night. My immediate reaction was disappointment, but I was already up to a positive reaction after one re-listen. I think part of that was my favorite songs were the ones that were released ahead of time, which made the full album release a little underwhelming. But I also don't think that I liked the high points as much as I did the high points on Terrible Thrills or Gone Now, both of which were in the running for my favorite album of the year when they were released. Of course, going back and re-reading my thoughts on Gone Now reveals that I took a bit to warm up to it as well, which I had forgotten. In the end, I still like TTSOOSN, but I don't think this one will wind up on my Best of 2021 lists... but then again, there's still a chance I come around to it even more.
As for EP’s that I listened to a lot, we have: Paper Idols with Mania Days, Beach Bunny with Blame Game, Witch Cafe with Witchpop Volume One, and Sub-Radio with Thoughts Lights Colors Sounds.
Speaking of Sub-Radio, I actually only learned of them this year, but I liked their earlier EPs too. And Thoughts Lights Colors Sounds was a 2020 release, but they’ve released a few more good singles this year, like “What You Want to Hear” or “King of My Heart”.
I don’t know which list to put Great Good Fine Ok’s Great Good Five Ok, or KennyHoopla and Travis Barker’s SURVIVORS GUILT: THE MIXTAPE//, the EPs one or albums one. Both were eight songs and a little under 30 minutes, which feels like it rides the line? I liked them both quite a bit, though; they would have probably merited honorable mentions on the albums side, and they might take the EP category outright.
Japanese Breakfast’s Jubilee was also good, although I didn’t connect with it as well as some other things I listened to; it might be someone else’s jam, though. And at the very least, look into “Be Sweet”, which might ultimately be my song of the summer. “Posing in Bondage” is also really good.
Learning of Japanese Breakfast also led me to mastermind Michelle Zauner’s 2020 side project BUMPER, which was another short but sweet EP. And that in turn led to me learning of the band Crying (Ryan Galloway is in both projects), which was also a lot of fun to discover.
After dozens of listens, I still don't really know what exactly Caroline Polachek's "Bunny Is a Rider" is about, but it's absolutely a spacey summer jam and I love it so much. It would have made any full release a contender within its category, but alas, it was just a single. Looking forward to what follows, though.
Last year, I was not as big on The Aces' sophomore album, Under My Influence. But they've continued releasing songs since then, including a similarly-title EP, and I think all of them have been pretty good? Like, "upper-half-of-the-album" good? I should give it a re-listen now as one complete thing, to see if that improves my opinions of it. On the one hand, more good songs is always a plus. On the other hand, I'd have to give it some thought where to place them, plus I remember feeling at the time that it was a little long, at 14 tracks? It still wasn't quite a problem yet, but adding even more to it might finally push it too far. No way to know for sure unless I try, I guess.
On that note, I guess Pale Waves follows in their footsteps from last time. I didn’t like their sophomore effort Who Am I? quite as much as their debut My Mind Makes Noises, but there were still some good songs, and I’m still excited to see what’s next.
And speaking of newer artists who I’m excited to see more from, I enjoyed Girl In Red’s debut album If I Could Make It Go Quiet. I guess she and Paper Idols take this year’s “Promising Newcomer” awards?
I wasn't particularly expecting Summer 2020 surprise Daði Freyr to show up again, but "10 Years" was another jam, and the video was once again a lot of goofy fun.
Smallpools has been releasing a lot of songs in anticipation of a new album. One of them was a duet with New Dialogue, who I hadn’t heard of. They have some good songs, but I especially like their cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain”.
The Midnight also place a cover on this list, with their stellar rendition of “Because the Night”. That and “Neon Medusa” were standouts on their new EP, although it feels a little shorter and one-note than most of their other releases.
Also, the Weeknd’s new song, “Take My Breath” reminds me of The Midnight in a lot of ways. I dig it.
I liked Lake Street Dive's new album Obviously, but I'm not sure I'll revisit it as often as their last few albums. Maybe it will surprise me, though. At the very least though, "Hypotheticals" is great, and "Same Old News" is a lower-key jam.
I also finally got around to San Fermin’s newest album, The Cormorant I & II. Not quite as good as Jackrabbit (which I revisit all the time), but there’s still a lot of good stuff there. Also, the bari sax in “Swamp Song” makes me think of “The Woods”, which is always good.
Man, why did no one tell me about Miami Horror? I only just found their 2015 album All Possible Futures a few months ago, and y'all were holding out on me. I listened to it a ton. On the whole, it's also a little long, but stuff like "Real Slow" and (especially) "Cellophane (So Cruel)" are more perfect summer jams that I can't believe I missed out on for years.
If you were a fan of my digression into Snail’s House last year, you should check out In Love With a Ghost (who I finally got around to listening to) and Moe Shop (who I’ve listened to in the past, but I’m not sure I’ve mentioned here? Either way, I focused on their newer songs). Also included: some more, more-recent Snail’s House stuff (although I still haven’t gotten around to trying Tasomachi, the 3D platformer that released earlier this year with a full soundtrack from Snail’s House).
Speaking of video games and music, I’m familiar with The New Pornographers, but I don’t know all of their songs by heart or anything. One of the gaps in my knowledge was their 2014 song “Champions of Red Wine”, which showed up in the finale of a game I was playing earlier this year. It’s an absolutely perfect use of an incredible song, and it immediately stuck with me. Look for more on that game, possibly coming soon depending on whether I can organize my thoughts on it into something coherent.
I was tempted to include all three songs from Walk the Moon’s recent release, since I also really liked all of them. But I decided to hold back, since there will be a full album later in the year, and they will probably be making more appearances here. It’s been a while since 2017’s What If Nothing, but I really liked that album, so I’m excited.
Some other ones to watch going forward, who might show up again soon: Jukebox the Ghost (who’s next album comes out literally next week) [edit: past-me was mistaken, it was just a single], Smallpools, Caroline Polachek (maybe??), Miami Horror, Bastille, Bad Suns, the Family Crest, Coldplay, the Wombats (although the full album comes out in early January), and probably a few more that I can’t think of or who haven’t confirmed it yet. And of course, I’ll probably just stumble randomly on a bunch of things at random too.
|Don't Freak||The Aces|
|Aren't You||The Aces|
|On My Way||Alex Lahey|
|Heaven is a Place in My Head||Bad Suns|
|Distorted Light Beam||Bastille|
|Thelma + Louise||Bastille|
|Last Day on Earth||beabadoobee|
|He Gets Me So High||beabadoobee|
|Good Girls (Don't Get Used)||Beach Bunny|
|Love Sick||Beach Bunny|
|How Dare You Want More||Bleachers|
|Stop Making This Hurt||Bleachers|
|Be Mine Tonight||Breakbot feat. Delafleur|
|You Can Get It||BUMPER|
|Bunny Is a Rider||Caroline Polachek|
|Ride or Die||Cash Cash feat. Phoebe Ryan|
|Walk You Out||Chloe Tang|
|He Said She Said||Chvrches|
|How Not to Drown||Chvrches & Robert Smith|
|10 Years||Dadi Freyr|
|Do You Wanna||Dornik|
|Can't Wait Forever||Friendly Fires|
|Serotonin||girl in red|
|Did You Come?||girl in red|
|So Far So Good||Great Good Fine Ok|
|Could Be Us||Great Good Fine Ok & Emily Burns|
|Real||Great Good Fine Ok|
|Funfunfun||In Love with a Ghost|
|Summer Party 3019||In Love with a Ghost|
|Be Sweet||Japanese Breakfast|
|Posing in Bondage||Japanese Breakfast|
|Every Window Is a Mirror||Joywave|
|silence is also an answer//||KennyHoopla & Travis Barker|
|hollywood sucks//||KennyHoopla & Travis Barker|
|smoke break//||KennyHoopla & Travis Barker|
|Broken Glass||Kygo & Kim Petras|
|R U HIGH||The Knocks feat. Mallrat|
|Bedroom Eyes||The Knocks feat. Studio Killers|
|Hypotheticals||Lake Street Dive|
|Same Old News||Lake Street Dive|
|Secrets from a Girl (Who's Seen it All)||Lorde|
|So What||Louis the Child & A R I Z O N A|
|GO GO||Matt & Kim|
|Never Wanna Leave||Max M|
|Real Slow||Miami Horror feat. Sarah Chernoff|
|Love Like Mine||Miami Horror feat. Cleopold|
|Cellophane (So Cruel)||Miami Horror feat. Aaron Tiem & Gavin Turek|
|Neon Medusa||The Midnight|
|Because the Night||The Midnight feat. Nikki Flores|
|Wonder Pop||Moe Shop|
|WWW (Instrumental)||Moe Shop|
|Sexual||NEIKED feat. Dyo|
|Call Me||NEIKED feat. MIMI|
|The Chain||New Dialogue|
|Champions of Red Wine||The New Pornographers|
|Run To||Pale Waves|
|Daydream||Paper Idol feat. Nasaya|
|James Bond||Paper Idol|
|The End Is Always Near||Patternist|
|All Your Love||Penguin Prison|
|Look at the Sky||Porter Robinson|
|Fireworks||Purple Disco Machine feat. Moss Kena & The Knocks|
|Love Me 4 Me||Rina Sawayama|
|Tokyo Love Hotel||Rina Sawayama|
|Dancing in a Daydream||Roses & Revolutions feat. Weathers|
|Swamp Song||San Fermin|
|Freedom (Yeah Yeah!)||San Fermin|
|My Valentine||Snail's House|
|Love Elevation||Strange Talk|
|What You Want to Hear||Sub-Radio|
|Can You Handle My Love??||Walk the Moon|
|Giants||Walk the Moon|
|Pasadena||We Are the Union|
|Morbid Obsessions||We Are the Union|
|Make It Easy||We Are the Union|
|Take My Breath (Extended Version)||The Weeknd|
|Let Me Know||Winona Oak|
|Witch City||Witch Café|
|If You Ever Leave I'm Coming With You||The Wombats|
|Nothing to Love About Love||The Wombats & Peking Duk|
|Starstruck||Years & Years|