Top Songs of 2021

I live in a weird music bubble. I don’t listen to the radio, and at my age I don’t really have any peers left who listen to new music with any kind of passion. So, I discover things on my own, either via browsing the Apple Music store or through the occasional bits of music news that leak through. I don’t even use Spotify or stream music–I purchase it. This makes me a throwback, I know, but it makes the music much less disposable and much more enjoyable for me. (And has the added benefit, I think, of putting more money into the artists’ pockets.)

I’m not going to pretend to have a particularly elevated taste or even know much about music. I really don’t. I have zero musical ability, and I actually quite like that. It’s one of the few artistic things I enjoy purely as appreciation and not so much examination. But I do have taste, of a sort. All the music I like is GOOD. Feel free to disagree (I know you will).

At the end of every year, I make two playlists. One is my Top 10, and the second is my Top 11-20. I segregate them this way because I want my Top 10 to be a TRUE Top 10. I force myself to make difficult choices to create a truly excellent playlist worthy of being revisited, and then the 11-20 list is what is leftover. Still great songs, but just not Top 10. Both lists are ordered for listening pleasure, not by ranking.

There are a few rules that govern these lists. They are as follows:

1. No artist may appear twice in one list, even if they had some truly excellent songs that would otherwise qualify.

2. Any song I discovered in the past year is fair game, no matter what year it was actually released. No matter how late I came to the party. (See: West, Kanye)

3. When trying to pick between two great songs, greater weight is given to the song released during the current year.

This year, a theme emerged in the songs I like best: being a jerk. Whether it’s identifying jerkiness in others or being self aware enough to recognize your own jerkiness, there’s a lot of reflection and regret going on in these songs. I’ll let my future self suss out whether that’s just the year in music or something I’m working out within myself.

Also, it’s a 50/50 split between male and female vocalists. That’s pretty cool. I like the variety.

So, here, by no demand whatsoever, is my Top 10 and Top 11-20 playlists. All songs are either the clean versions or homemade edited versions. If you choose to wade in, I highly recommend the following listening order:

TOP 10

1. All My Favorite Songs – Weezer

2. Ringside – Julien Baker

3. Runaway – Kanye West feat. Pusha T

4. brutal – Olivia Rodrigo

5. Amy Shark – Amy Shark

6. Better If You Don’t – CHVRCHES

7. Locust Laced – Sleigh Bells

8. Needle – Middle Kids

9. I Lied – Lord Huron & Allison Ponthier

10. In My Room (At My Piano Version) – Brian Wilson

TOP 11-20

11. True Seekers – Sleigh Bells

12. Extreme Ways (Reprise Version) – Moby

13. Somebody Desperate – The National

14. Happier Than Ever – Billie Eilish

15. I Made It – Andrew W.K.

16. Flathead – The Fratellis

17. Bad Neighbours – Middle Kids

18. In the Car Outside – The Killers

19. Sometimes – James

20. Funeral – Phoebe Bridgers

What I’m Listening to #intimeslikethese

I swear if I see one more commercial that starts with some somber woman intoning the words “In difficult times like these…” I think I might pop. This is a time in which we are all seeking comfort, but I don’t look for or need it from a Subaru advertisement. God help me if I ever do.

Where I actually find a lot of solace is in things like prayer and family. And music. Music is big for me. I have no actual talent in the creation or performance of music whatsoever, so the listening of it is something I do purely for pleasure, not for examination or study.

I recently came to the conclusion that the song No Hard Feelings by The Avett Brothers (see below to listen) is perhaps the most beautiful song released in the last couple decades or so. (Argue with me if you want, but that just means you haven’t heard it.)  It’s a song that didn’t strike me immediately on first listen, but my appreciation of it has grown and grown over the years. I’m sure a lot of it has to do with the lyrical content, which (to me) is about the relief waiting for us in the next life when old hurts and regrets are wiped away and we are reunited with our loved ones and our Savior, with whom we will “shake hands laughing.” It’s just gorgeous.

My cousin Carly added the song to her “Being Held” playlist, the idea of which I quite like. There is a need to reach beyond this virus and all the turmoil it’s causing in our hearts and in our streets and in our hospitals. I think we’d all like to “be held” right now. And, as a person of faith, I’d like God to do the holding. Metaphorically speaking, I believe He is, and a playlist that reminds me He is there and always present is a good thing.

So, here’s my “Being Held” playlist. All of these songs are either about God or make me think of Him. They may not have been intended as such, but that’s what they are to me. And, when it comes to music, I think what it means to me is the most important thing.

Maybe you’ll find a few gems in here that will help you, too.

(Note: If you build this for yourself, I recommend not hitting shuffle. I sequenced this sucker!)

  1. Slow Your Breath Down – Future of Forestry. A good reminder, especially #intimeslikethese.

2. No Hard Feelings – The Avett Brothers. Chills every time it reaches the climax.

3. This Road – Jars of Clay. You’re gonna see a lot of Jars of Clay on this list. This song is like a warm blanket.

4. Before You Were Young – Travis. Not hard to imagine who is singing this song.

5. Open Arms – Elbow. Makes me tear up. This is what I want God to say when I return home.

6. Hymn – Jars of Clay. “So melt my pride that I may in your house but live…”

7. Division – Moby. No lyrics, just a vibe.

8. Help Me – Johnny Cash. This is speaking to God from a desperate place. A prayer given by a man at the end of his life who has said a lot of them.

9. I Don’t Mind – Phantom Planet. Whatever the Lord needs to inflict upon me, I’ll take it because I know it’s worth it. I don’t mind.

10. Oh My God – Jars of Clay. Now, in almost every instance I view exclaiming “Oh my God” as using the Lord’s name in vain. This is Jars of Clay crafting an entire song around the idea that there actually is a circumstance in which using that phrase is appropriate. What they come up with is absolutely devastating. This lays me flat every time, and it’s in my personal Top 3 favorite songs.

11. I’ve Been High – R.E.M. This always, always lifts me up.

12. Let Your Heart Hold Fast – Fort Atlantic. “For this soon shall pass like the high tide takes the sand…”

13. Morning Light – The Hunts. This song, sadly, is not available on YouTube, and is even difficult to find commercially. It’s worth tracking down though, believe me. A sweet song about turning the “darkest night into the morning light.” (A huge theme in a lot of my writing.)

14. Worlds Apart (Live) – Jars of Clay. A plea to God to “take my world apart,” which is a good thing to do when your world is bad. (Find the live version off their “Furthermore” album, if you can.)

15. Outro – M83. I think it’s a synth, but I wish the organs in our churches sound like this.

16. Bathed in Sunlight – Fort Atlantic. Wouldn’t we all like to be? Even I, who prefers dark rooms to the outdoors, want that sunlight.

17. Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing – Jars of Clay. Probably my favorite hymn, and this is the best rendition of it.

18. Til Kingdom Come – Coldplay. Coldplay actually did a straight up, no-holds-barred Christian song, and I feel like people forgot about it. More overt than anything U2 ever put out.

19. On the Nature of Daylight – Max Richter. No lyrics, but the feeling this song evokes is extraordinary. I find myself thinking in cycles, life and death, that sort of thing. I think about God.

That’s it, those are the songs I’m drawing the most comfort from right now. Anything you would add to it? What are you listening to that’s bringing you to a better place?

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay