The Indie Music that Soundtracked 2021
Indie music fans know that this was an incredible year for new releases. There were anthems about perseverance, celebrations of love and friendship, and plenty of 80’s style synth pop. Here are our picks for the 21 best indie songs of 2021.
21. Porches: “Okay”
On the band’s last few albums, Aaron Maine has focused on slippery, glittery synths. But on this track, Porches trade in their synthesizers for crisp electric and acoustic guitars and drums. It’s super catchy, with an “OK” filled chorus that will suck you in and leave you singing along.
20. Turnstile: “MYSTERY”
Arguably, the biggest hardcore band right now is Turnstile. And with their abounding creativity, they’re breaking the mold. “MYSTERY,” the album’s opening track, begins with a minimal, glittering 20-second synth riff before catapulting you into a sea of chugging power chords and an anthemic chorus. It may not be your average hardcore sound, but you’ll be headbanging along in no time.
19. Beach House: “Once Twice Melody”
The veteran dream pop duo is back with their self-produced eighth studio album. The title track, “Once Twice Melody”, feels cinematic and deeply surreal, like we’ve come to expect from Beach House. But with the addition of a live string orchestra and Victoria Legrand’s easygoing and passive vocal delivery, this track becomes particularly special.
18. Yves Tumor: “Jackie”
On The Asymptotical World EP, Yves Tumor leans away from their usual electronic experimental rock and leans comfortably into a glam rock era. The drums are colossal but the wailing guitars are the real star of the show. It’s a story of a relationship in anguish, and the swirling guitars are a perfect backdrop as Yves Tumor pours his heart out.
17. serpentwithfeet: “Fellowship”
Josiah Wise’s latest album, DEACON, is an ethereal mix of R&B and experimental pop. On “Fellowship”, his delicate falsetto glides along a bright, minimal synth beat. It’s a pure and heartfelt ode to friendship, with the chorus repeating, “I’m thankful for the love I share with my friends”.
16. The War On Drugs (feat. Lucius): “I Don’t Live Here Anymore”
We knew from their past albums that The War on Drugs were the kings of heartland Americana synth-rock. But they’ve never released anything quite as grandiose and glitzy as this single. With the tumultuous year we’ve all had, you can’t help but relate to the opening lines, “I was lying in my bed/A creature void of form.” But as the chorus builds into a gospel-style sing-along and the glittery synths begin to layer, it feels like a rebirth.
15. black midi: “John L”
black midi return with a confounding sound after releasing 2019’s Schlagenheim, their incredible debut album. They’re still in their wheelhouse of avant-garde prog rock, but adding some violins and saxophone to the mix makes this track stand out. It’s sharp and in your face, with a spritely tempo that gets charged into turbo speed as you listen. It’s equally dizzying and disparate, like an auditory acid flashback.
14. Big Thief: “Little Things”
This single is a delightfully bright spot in Big Theif’s discography. It feels characteristically airy and dreamy but with the uncharacteristic addition of handclaps and the occasional cathartic scream from frontwoman Adrianne Lenker. The buzzing guitar swirls as Lenker makes the harsh realization that love is messy. “Maybe I’m a little obsessed/Maybe you do use me,” she sings with piercing clarity.
13. Claud: “Soft Spot”
In October of last year, Claud was the first act to sign on to Phoebe Bridgers imprint, Saddest Factory Records. They dropped the incredible Super Monster, with the standout track, “Soft Spot.” This track feels like a warm hug despite Claud singing about the familiar pain of unrequited love. It’s beautiful, tragic, and the perfect song to soundtrack a teenage indie coming-of-age romance movie.
12. Lucy Dacus: “VBS”
Lucy Dacus’ songwriting has the special ability to transport you. Her lyrics feel like memories, all-encompassing with tastes, smells, and sounds. On “VBS“, short for Vacation Bible School, she tells the story of a childhood boyfriend, a poetry writing metalhead from a troubled family. The song carries a light and reminiscent tone, with the exception of the brief hard rock jam as Dacus mentions her lover’s affection for Slayer.
11. Yaeji, OHHYUK: “Year to Year”
Yaeji, the Korean-American producer and singer and South Korean indie rocker Oh Hyuk teamed up for a pair of singles. “Year to Year” is a standout track with dreamy, layered production. The pair keep it light and breezy until Oh Hyuk’s reverb-heavy guitars are introduced into the mix, taking the song to new heights. On this track, the two play off each other’s strengths to create an entrancing new sound.
10. Parquet Courts: “Walking at a Downtown Pace”
We’re half way through the 21 best indie songs of 2021 and getting down to the final 10. After hearing the disco-style percussion open up this track, you’ll be interested. But after hearing the grandiose, distorted guitar, you’ll be hooked. “Walking at a Downtown Pace” is like the grown-up older brother to the band’s 2018 single, “Wide Awake.” The same dancey instrumentation blended with their traditional post-punk style makes this song feel like caffeine for your ears.
9. Sharon Van Etten, Angel Olsen: “Like I Used To”
Two of the smoothest voices in indie-folk rock team up for a hopeful anthem. With a swelling chorus, this song feels more melodic and rousing than each artist’s typical style. Released in the Spring after the arrival of the vaccine, the song was a celebration of time spent with oneself and getting back to normal life. “Sleepin’ in late like I used to/Crossing my fingers like I used to/Waiting inside like I used to/Avoiding big crowds like I used to,” the pair sings.
8. Snail Mail: “Ben Franklin”
On her sophomore album, Valentine, Lindsey Jordan cemented herself as one of the biggest names in indie rock. She ditches her acoustic guitar for a groovy synth beat and trades her bold vocal style for a more relaxed delivery. But make no mistake, this spiteful song packs a punch, directed at an ex-lover. Jordan tries to shake off her emotions with lines like, “Got money, don’t care about sex.” But she can’t keep her feelings from resurfacing, as she sings, “Sometimes I hate her just for not being you.”
7. Mitski: “Working for the Knife”
After 2019’s Be The Cowboy, Mitski took a break from performance, worried that her identity would rely too much on “staying in the game.” On this track, she made her grand return, ruminating on her success. But wondering at what cost she achieved it. The knife is a metaphor for the pain we endure on our warped paths to fame and success. The lush production swells and sinks as Mitski declares she’ll work, live, and die for that knife.
6. Indigo de Souza: “Kill Me”
It was clear de Souza’s debut album, I Love My Mom that she had a knack for penning cathartic and affecting garage jams, but she takes her songwriting skills to new heights on her sophomore record, Any Shape You Take. “Kill Me” is a grungy yet spirited anthem for the self-destructive. Her unbridled emotion lends a deeply charismatic edge. “Kill me, kill me, no one, asked me/To feel this, fucked up/But here I am, fucked up,” belts de Souza.
5. Faye Webster: “I Know I’m Funny haha”
You’ve probably never met Faye Webster but after listening to her 2021 release, “I Know I’m Funny haha,” you’ll feel like you’ve been friends for years. She’s a great way to bring us to the Top 5 of The 21 best indie songs of 2021. The relaxed, echoing guitar over Webster’s casual yet matter-of-fact lyricism capture such a depth of personality in a seemingly breezy track. “I made her laugh one time at dinner,” she sings. “She said I’m funny and then I thanked her/But I know I’m funny haha.”
4. Japanese Breakfast: “Be Sweet”
Frontwoman Michelle Zauner has had a hell of a year. Between releasing her debut memoir, “Crying in H Mart,” dropping Jubilee, her best album to date, and racking up two Grammy nominations in the process. “Be Sweet” is a detour for Japanese Breakfast, with shiny and colorful production injected with plenty of danceable 80’s synth riffs.
3. MUNA: “Silk Chiffon” (ft. Phoebe Bridgers)
With the year we’ve all had, we deserve to belt along to the chorus, declaring “Life’s so fun, life’s so fun!” It’s up to you whether you believe that or you’re faking it until you make it, but this undeniably catchy tune will make the worst pessimists feel hopeful. This queer-pop ballad is bright and breezy, cementing MUNA as a band to watch in 2022.
2. Caroline Polachek: “Bunny Is A Rider”
Caroline Polachek trades in her avant-garde pop sound for a cleaner, crisper style on “Bunny Is A Rider.” But don’t fret, it still has all the quirks and eccentricities that make Polachek so special. On this track, she laments about Bunny, an elusive, bewitching, and fiercely independent character. Bunny is a force of nature and most of all untraceable. Polachek yearns to know the comfort of Bunny’s intangible and ethereal identity, as she sings in the chorus, “I’m so nonphysical.” She has a knack for creating whimsical, supernatural songs that are almost hypnotic, letting you transcend into her world.
1. Wet Leg: “Chaise Lounge”
If you haven’t been introduced to the British duo Wet Leg, do yourself a favor and queue up their discography. They’ve released four songs, making them the most intriguing act to emerge this year. With Wet Leg, everything is alluring, nonsensical, and dripping in sex. With jagged, swirling guitar riffs and plenty of off-kilter witticisms, Wet Leg creates an enthralling and addictive track, leaving us wanting more. Their self-titled debut is expected to drop on April 8, via Domino Records. But until then, we’ll have this track on repeat.
Let us know what you think are the 21 best indie songs of 2021. Looking forward to what 2022 has in store for us!