Whether it ’ s a powerhouse lead one, a brooding deep cut, or a one-off dance floor banger, nothing has the might to move and transform quite like a great tune. At the halfway charge of a foreign year collapse at the wrinkle with creative output, we ’ ve rounded up the best tracks for your heed pleasure. much like our Best Albums of 2021 ( So Far ), we ’ ra ditching the traditional rank format — that ’ sulfur for the end of the year — in prefer of hand-pick individual selections from KCRW DJs and music staff.
Check out KCRW ’ s front-runner songs of 2021 ( so far ), and be certain to put ears on our carry Spotify playlist for a deeply prima donna into the wealth of this year ’ sulfur primo offerings.
We want to know your picks, besides. Sign up for the KCRW Music Insider newsletter for a casual to contribution your top tunes and win a Morning Becomes Eclectic mid-year trophy package .
Read more: The Best Albums of 2021 (So Far)
Reading: The Best Songs of 2021 (So Far)
If you need a new lease on life coming out of this god-forsaken year — or at the very least, a new mantra — Elohim and Big Freedia have it. It ’ randomness cutthroat, and it ’ s “ Strut. ”
Know this, remember this, live this. After 18 months of being indoors, bedecked in athleisure, the song ’ s central tone of “ It ’ s not a sidewalk, it ’ s the runway ! ” is a jerk back to life sentence. Oozing attitude and wax of bounce, “ Strut ” is not alone my song of the summer, but the piece of music that has revived me in the funnest, most booty-shaking of ways. I feel knock-down and look like a million bucks the second the first synthesizer hits my ears .
yesterday, I went to the 7-11 in my outback workplace of rural Eastern Virginia to… delay for it… get a Slurpee. It was the damn track. — Anne Litt, KCRW DJ and Program Director for Music
LA psych-soul outfit the Marías have been on a firm trajectory as one of the city ’ s most promise and talented fresh bands since releasing their debut EP “ Superclean Vol. 1 ” in 2017. Around that time, I stumbled upon an early show of theirs at Silver Lake ’ s El Cid. even with a sparse crowd, it was immediately clear that this was a ring that had arrived amply formed — from their sartorial art, to the taut rhythm part, to the capture vocals and stage presence of singer María Zardoya, who in a different earned run average might have been the chew over of french New Wave cinema .
The band, which performs in both English and Spanish, would earn ballyhoo through cosigns from Cuco, their ultrasmooth bilingual EPs, and Cardigans-esque covers of Radiohead and Britney Spears. But it wasn ’ thymine until the late turn of “ Hush, ” off of the group ’ s tantalizing debut LP “ Cinema, ” that the Marías stepped securely into a lane all their own. Their former uber-retro stylings are shed aside in favor of lean synths, rhythmical tension, and discordant, brainsick guitar licks, allowing Zardoya ’ s velveteen vocals and kiss-off lyrics to hit like the final cigarette before leaving the club. Band co-leader Josh Conway seals the deal with the welcome contrast of his creeping baritone, lending faze harmonies to the chorus before squaring off against Zardoya with a verse of his own. Listen at your own risk — and keep your fan conclusion. — Andrea Domanick, KCRW Digital Producer, Music and Culture
Read more: Pan Caliente: The Marías
An pioneer, composer and sleep together luminary Vijay Iyer is a rhythmical cipher, connecting history through portals of illumination, cognition, and the ethos of humanity, tragic and bubbling. Helming the piano, Iyer has a way with report as a mean of reaching the inner thoughts of oneself, as the ballet of notes provide an clever room for position .
On “ Children of Flint, ” Iyer eloquently and beautifully expresses the rejoice of casual life sentence while the politics of budget cuts and contaminate water pose a real struggle on communities poisoned by leave from aging pipes. Though a blue position, the promise and exponent of a people to rise are expressed through the uplifting melodies, calming bass lines, and the aristocratic crash of symbols. A world beyond, the wrongs of misguided politicians are being turned around and the music provides a look, a tactile property for hope and favorableness, and a way towards change. Always feeling his room with the will of the people of all colors, Iyer shines light on the circumstances that expose tyranny and show the true resilience of the spirit of humanness through the registers of melodic tone and luster. — LeRoy Downs, KCRW DJ
Melbourne ’ s Spiritual Mafia claims to have members of Ausmuteants and EXEK, but it ’ s impossible for me to confirm that, as on their Bandcamp page angstrom well as on their LP “ Alfresco, ” there ’ s no personnel information I can find. I can ’ t remember where I read about the two aforementioned bands. I was sent the tracks from the label as a download, dug it, and got the album, which I in truth like, chiefly because I can ’ thymine figure them out and am enjoying the aplomb mystery of their music. It doesn ’ triiodothyronine hurt that I ’ m an Ausmuteants and EXEK winnow vitamin a good. The strangest/coolest track on the solid thing is the 10-plus moment “ Bath Boy, ” which is way out there. This is becoming one of my favorite warmly weather albums for 2021. — Henry Rollins, KCRW DJ
Hiatus Kaiyote say that “ Red Room, ” the second gear single from their new full-length “ Mood Valiant, ” was simply a throng after a long day in the studio, with no purpose of adding more songs to the album. “ I never write lyrics on the fly, but this song barely wanted to exist, ” lead singer Nai Palm shared in an Instagram mail. “ We laid down a copulate of passes, and that was that. Sleepy, grating spokesperson, imperfections and all. ” Like sol many capital, organic music charming moments throughout history, that ’ s precisely what makes it perfect. Push gambling, and be immediately transported to the blanketed beauty of Nai ’ s real-life red stain glaze room to which the traverse is an ode. — Novena Carmel, Morning Becomes Eclectic Co-Host and KCRW DJ
Rotterdam-based singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and manufacturer Sykes released his introduction EP “ We and Us ” in February, a plan wholly self-written and produced. It ‘s drenched in 2-step influence drums, jazz piano loops, neo-soul melodies, dashes of break beat, and his ambitious vocals. It just gives you all the feels .
“ I Am 2 ” is no exception, bespoke for the post meridiem hours, and in particular for those who prefer their music to feel just a estimable as it sounds. In fact, if you do n’t feel something after listening to this, you fair might want to check your pulse. — Aaron Byrd, KCRW DJ
Pakistani singer Arooj Aftab brings fourth dimension and plaza to a stand with this remake of a birdcall from her 2014 debut. This new record starts her latest album “ Vulture Prince, ” which is dedicated to the artist ’ south younger brother who died this past class. The lyric, sing in Urdu, speaks of passing and hanker. Raised in Lahore, precisely across the Northern surround of India, and presently based in Brooklyn, the Berklee alumnus is immediately poised for the global stagecoach. Be sure to grab tickets for her just-announced show at LA ‘s Lodge Room for September 27th. — Chris Douridas, KCRW DJ and Music Programming Curator of Eclectic24
A 25-time Grammy and Latin Grammy winner, Juanes has delighted an international hearing for decades. His abstruse love for rock ‘n’ roll and latin american english cycle has always led the way, but on his raw album “ Origen, ” Spanish for “ origin, ” Juanes takes a trench prima donna into the music that inspired and molded his art the most. Covers like Carlos Gardel ‘s tango “ Volver ” take a modern tropical turn, while his translation of Juan Gabriel ‘s “ No Tengo Dinero ” slides into rock territory, but the criminal record ’ s true jewel is the spanish adaptation of Bruce Springsteen ‘s “ Dancing In The Dark ” — an faultless translation with a sultry beat that just may become your favored make out birdcall. — Ariana Morgenstern, Morning Becomes Eclectic Executive Producer
I ’ m not sure if I chose this song, or if this song chose me, but Blood Cultures ’ individual “ Set It on Fire ” has been stuck in my head for the last few months now… and I like it. Their newest album, “ LUNO, ” builds on the emotional subtleties of their former exercise, leaning into delicate rock sensibilities to communicate themes of identity and self-acceptance .
Instrumentally, “ Set It on Fire ” sounds like it ’ south changeable in 35mm – there ’ s a granulate on top of the yodel organs, resonant church bells, punchy guitar solo, and apparitional vocals that make it a multi-dimensional earworm. If you like the indistinct psychedelia of Black Moth Super Rainbow or Tame Impala, chances are you ’ ll be enamored with this tune. — John Moses, KCRW DJ
London rapper Little Simz ’ south 2019 album “ Grey Area ” began a musical predominate, and “ Woman, ” the second single from her approaching album “ Sometimes I Might Be Introvert, ” solidifies her blot on the throne and the crown on her oral sex. With rich, soulful output by frequent confederate Inflo ( who besides produced KCRW ’ s top album of 2020, SAULT ’ s “ Untitled ” ) and vocals lended by Cleo Sol, Simz celebrates the strength, smasher, and fine details of melanated women around the global on “ Woman. ” not only is Simz at the top of her game lyrically, but she makes a exultant directorial debut in the vibrant and decadent music video recording, featuring women of color dancing their way through a epicurean mansion. “ Sometimes I Might Be Introvert ” drops on September 3, and the wait couldn ’ t be over oklahoman. — Surreal Lewis, KCRW Music Intern
Producer/vocalist Iman Houssein merely has a handful of singles out, but has already caught our attention as a recipient of Today ‘s Top Tune. “ Show Them ” features texture, astuteness, and progression that feels fitting in the year of pandemic emergence. Born in Iran and now based in London, Houssein ’ s huge array of influences are easy to hear, from electronic beats to neo soul ,
blended together in a creative manner that ‘s alone. — Anthony Valadez, Morning Becomes Eclectic Co-Host and KCRW DJ
oklahoma, wide disclosure : I am broadly not a lyrics person. If I love a song, I ’ meter normally therefore taken by its melody, arrangement, and musicianship that its lyrics don ’ t even register until dozens of listens late. All of this is to say, tied if Amber Mark ’ south “ Worth It ” contained lyrics of no consequence, I ’ d still be all-in. The soaring melody, the gorgeous arrangement ( including a mid-song rhythm switch that comes in like a fresh breeze ), and Mark ’ s imperial and potent voice are more than enough to place this track among the mid-year outdo .
But, oh, the lyrics. After a year-plus of having unstable ground beneath us, of fretting about the future, and of diverse and sometimes brawny forms of diffidence, “ Worth It ” comes in to remind us of who we are and the baron and possibility that lies within each of us. For the spiritually-minded, Mark ’ second lyrics “ Open up the ceiling / Come on let the sleep together in ” remind us that we aren ’ thymine in the struggle alone. It ’ s telling that I have both wept to this song, and besides caught myself speeding on the expressway while listening, carried aside by its ability. — Scott Dallavo, KCRW DJ
From first listen to the single “ Don ’ triiodothyronine Hold Back ” by Chicago-based R & B/dance duet Drama, I was hooked. Singer Via Rosa ’ south vocals sit beautifully in the pocket of this alcoholic mid-tempo groover that grab you and doesn ’ t lease go. Its gorgeous house music barely makes you sway from side to side for the duration of this three-and-a-half minute escapade. — Raul Campos, KCRW DJ
“ Creatures, ” a highlight off of Viagra Boys ‘ latest LP “ Welfare Jazz, ” has “ show closer ” written all over it. While 2018 ’ s “ Sports “ is probably the Boys ‘ most celebrated birdcall, “ Creatures ” might prove to be the swedish post-punk outfit ’ s most resonant. The “ person ‘s Great Version ” ( possibly a nod to LCD Soundsystem ? ) that appears on the “ Shrimptech Ecstasylab ” EP strips the original translation gloomy to its skivvies and remakes the Viagra Boys ‘ rallying cry into something approaching a profound statement. — Travis Holcombe, KCRW DJ
This sung began its life cycle spinal column in January, when “ Artist to Watch ” Jensen McRae decided to engage in some inquisitive fiction about Phoebe Bridgers making a sung about getting the COVID vaccine on Twitter. From that initial snip, to a subsequent Phoebe Bridgers cosign, to McRae ’ s kind-of spoof tune racking up about 3 million streams on Spotify, “ Immune ” has been profoundly satisfying to track. Once it became an actual song, I listened with the studiousness of a adolescent, obsessed with knowing the chorus by center so that I could conjure it with my own voice on an as-needed footing. Six months late, the need remains. — Marion Hodges, Curator and Administrative Assistant, KCRW Music
In February, about a full year into the pandemic, I had settled into the stay-at-home malaise and seriously contemplated a worldly concern without enjoying live music with a crowd ever again. then I heard Psymon Spine ‘s “ Channels ” — a dizzyingly infectious dance-rock number with equal parts LCD Soundsystem and Gang of Four — and I ‘ve never wanted to pogo amidst hundreds of strangers more ill in my life. — Dan Wilcox, KCRW DJ
arsenic soon as I heard the open cram fill up of Jack Page ’ randomness “ Play That Too, ” off of the New Zealander ’ s impressive sophomore EP “ The Days, Pt. 2, ” I was hooked. The sparse, easy-like-a-Sunday-morning rhythm section and soul-laden keyboard chords start this lament of a love gone sour and make it an contiguous ear worm. Page ’ sulfur croon follows with the gut-wrenching sincerity of opening lines “ You ’ ve found person new / cuz I was never enough, ” and daydreams into “ What if I stooped to their level ? ” It ’ s all about the pain, and Page doesn ’ triiodothyronine hold back when he delivers the pain and the agony of rejection, and the ways in which an ex-lover shows disdain. Throw in the staccato horn incision in the choir, and you got yourself a tune then heavily steeped in retro ‘ 70s person that you begin to question whether this was indeed produced in 2021, and not a great find from the vaults of 1971. — Valida, KCRW DJ
Rebecca Taylor, once a extremity of the rising couple Slow Club, has left the indie music world behind and aspires to unapologetically redefine and reclaim what being a toss off star topology is. Her solo project, Self Esteem, pushes fore female autonomy with a criticism for comparison culture, all while holding fast to a sting of self-deprecation. It ’ second in that contradiction that this gem of a individual shines bright, packed full of witty insight and apt agnosticism. “ I Do This All The Time ” highlights the insecurities and frustrations we all deal with, yet beautifully emboldens with an inspiring chorus. truthful lyricism for the winnings. — Jose Galvan, KCRW DJ
“ How do n’t you know my name ? ” asks the refrain at the kernel of neo-soul raconteuse V.C.R ‘s psychedelic soul epic, “ Minnie Lives. ” As in all great soul epics, the answer is less important than the articulation of the interview. V.C.R imbues the phrase with sorrow here and a searching melancholy there, altering her tone with each repetition. The California artist wrote “ Minnie Lives ” as “ an ode to women everywhere, ” but its title is a code reference book to the late singer Minnie Riperton, who died tragically young from front cancer. The track ’ s title reads as if Riperton ‘s emotional state still lingers among us, but V.C.R sings it as “ many lives, ” holding space for both lives lived in their comprehensiveness and those cut brusque. ( V.C.R besides acknowledges that the song had its roots in an abusive relationship. ) In that context, the song becomes an hymn about the pain of erasure and the ageless desire for homo association .
All of which would be enough to accredit “ Minnie Lives ” for the instruction of its storytelling. But V.C.R has besides given the sung a ample and ambitious musical arrangement, all cascading strings, earthy percussion, and heavenly vocal stacks. The song takes a intemperate bequeath turn in its third base dissemble featuring knocker Pink Siifu, when the on the spur of the moment dysphoric soundscape threatens to undermine the song ‘s reach for transcendence. But Siifu ‘s verse, crushed by distortion, ends with an affirmation of the transformative potential of annoyance : “ We sign our names in the rock / Washed by the backbone so far / Ancestors like come closer / Closer please / Close to me / Close. ” — Myke Dodge Weiskopf, KCRW Senior Music Producer
Holly Humberstone has only been at it for a few years, and already landed herself as the runner up in the BBC Sound of 2021 poll and a sport artist on Apple Music ’ s Up Next. I foremost hear of her when my friend had sent me her music soon before the release of her 2020 EP, “ Falling Asleep at the Wheel. ” I found her sour frequent, vulnerable, truthful, and I believed every news. She evening caught the ear of 1975 ‘s head, Matt Healy, to collaborate on Holly ‘s approaching EP .
Humberstone ’ second latest spill is a tender song about her struggles of moving to a new township and feeling alone and claustrophobic even while surrounded by friends. It ‘s a history to which we can all relate as we grow older and emotionally develop. The sung ‘s vibration is not sad or slow, but energetic, as if she has accepted this time in her life as a temp travel and keeps moving forward. I ’ megabyte looking forward to Humberstone ‘s career in music as person who will use her words to guide us without complications. — Jason Kramer, KCRW DJ