DIY’s Best Tracks of 2021
From breakthrough singles through to stellar returns, here are the top 20 tracks we’ve had on repeat this year.
While the last twelve months have been, er, interesting to say the least, one thing that’s for sure is that 2021 has offered up a vast array of incredible music. And that, we believe, deserves to be celebrated! So, to mark the occasion we asked an array of DIY contributors for their insights, totted up the totals and created our rundown.
From breakthrough singles like PinkPantheress’ ‘Just For Me’ or Wet Leg’s ‘Chaise Longue’ through to stellar returns from the likes of Wolf Alice and Bleachers, via ultimate pop bangers like MUNA’s ‘Silk Chiffon’ and Olivia Rodrigo’s ‘Good 4 U’, DIY’s 20 favourite tracks this year have come in many different shapes and sizes, but they’ve all been bloody brilliant.
Without further ado, we present DIY’s Best Tracks of 2021. Dive in and enjoy…
20. Yard Act - ‘The Overload’
Though Yard Act’s initial quartet of singles had set the Leeds group up as a tantalising prospect, taking familiar aspects (angular riffs, spoken word delivery) and adding humour and hooks, it was with September’s ‘The Overload’ that the band really upped the ante. The first track from their forthcoming album of the same name, it takes its title literally - densely packing its three minutes with witty bon mots and cheeky self-referencing (“Don’t get political/ I know what that dickhead singer’s like…”) whilst hurtling forward with the kind of fists-aloft chorus that could soundtrack a Match of the Day compilation as easily as a sweaty festival pit.
19. Caroline - ‘Skydiving onto the library roof’
Though they have eight members, the defining characteristic of the Rough Trade-signed caroline is restraint. ‘Skydiving Onto The Library Roof’ is only their second song to be released, four years after forming, and relies on tension and release as two drawn-out notes repeat over and over across the eight-minute song. There are elements of modern classical, post-rock and folk to pick out in the track, but every part is deconstructed and reconfigured so it sounds unrecognisable and utterly unique.
18. Bleachers - ‘Stop Making This Hurt’
It’s no secret that Jack Antonoff has a bit of a knack for penning bittersweet pop hits (both within and outside of his solo outfit Bleachers), but on ‘Stop Making This Hurt’ he really excels. Set against 80s synths and bright-sounding brass, the ‘Take The Sadness Out of Saturday Night’ cut is a gloriously cathartic offering which grabs at darkness and confusion and transforms it into something altogether more effervescent. Plus, anyone who manages to evade its gloriously catchy chorus is stronger-willed than us, that’s for sure.
17. PinkPantheress - ‘Just For Me’
PinkPantheress, the breakout viral star of 2021, manages to make usually competing elements fall into line beautifully. She may have a background on TikTok – the social media platform defined by sensory overload and maximalism – and makes drum’n’bass beats, but still manages to integrate beautiful, quiet intimacy into her music. It’s shown best on the huge ‘Just For Me’, a playful song about romantic obsession that could just well usher in a new era of young musicians and producers. And you know you’ve got something special on your hands when Coldplay butcher it with a cover live on the radio…
16. St. Vincent - ‘Pay Your Way In Pain’
Bursting with squelchy synths and funky basslines, ‘Pay Your Way In Pain’ - the first track revealed from the artist’s sixth album ‘Daddy’s Home’ released back in May - only went further to cement already-common comparisons between St Vincent and fellow pop chameleon David Bowie: the song wouldn’t sound out of place between ‘Fame’ and ‘Fashion’, after all. A consciously affected riff on mainstream ‘70s pop, yet at points completely structureless - the crucial “loved” clocking up a whole seventeen seconds - it’s a classic case of keeping ‘em guessing, wrapped up in a delightfully sleazy way.
15. Ashnikko ft. Princess Nokia - ‘Slumber Party’
From its opening line of “I’m not shy I’ll say it, I’ve been picturing you naked”, Ashnikko’s ‘Slumber Party’ is a non-stop girl-loving-girl pop anthem. Joined by Princess Nokia, the track is bursting with electricity as the pair trade lines about getting down (and going down) with a girlfriend. An instant earworm, its swirling background synths result in a perfect dirty dancefloor anthem, throwing in an R&B flair to the infectious pop number as Ash sings about giving “your girlfriend cunnilingus on my couch”. Who doesn’t love a bit of unfiltered flirtation in their pop hits, eh?
14. 100 gecs - ‘mememe’
Teasing the release of next year’s eagerly-awaited second album ‘10000 gecs’, 100 gecs returned with a bit of characteristic gecs pop chaos earlier this year, sharing new track ‘mememe’. Building from its video game-esque intro, the track quickly crescendos into the kind of batshit balls-to-the-walls glitch-pop galore that the duo have mastered. With a chorus rife with a moshpit-ready riffs, Laura Les and Dylan Brady tell former flames “you’ll never really know (know know know know) anything about me (me me me)”. We might be none-the-wiser about them, but one thing we do know though is that this track will be on loop in our heads until their new album arrives to rip up the pop rulebook next year.
13. Wolf Alice - ‘The Last Man On Earth’
Returning off the back of a Mercury Prize win and the biggest shows of their career, all eyes were on Wolf Alice when they unveiled ‘Blue Weekend’’s first single ‘The Last Man On Earth’ in February. And if there was a decision that said the Londoners really meant business third time around, it was to put this track’s slow-burning swell front and centre. Featuring a first half comprised solely of vocals and meditative grand piano, it takes a lot of balls to come back with something so confident and understated; that ‘TLMOE’’s second half is a soaring sucker-punch of emotion only hammered home the fact that Wolf Alice were entering their imperial phase.
12. Snail Mail - ‘Valentine’
As a comeback single after three years away, ‘Valentine’ thrusts you straight into the bleeding heart of Snail Mail’s second album. “Why’d you wanna erase me, darling valentine?” she sings as the track’s booming chorus comes in, and the release of the song feels like a level up in every sense, as the first taster of Lindsey Jordan’s second album, also called ‘Valentine’. This is a track, and album, that dives headfirst into the ups and downs of romance and comes out beaten and bloodied.
11. Lil Nas X - ‘MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)’
Once again proving his skill in crafting an instantly infectious track, Lil Nas X shook off any one-hit-wonder claims, introducing his debut studio album with ‘MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)’. With a chorus that’ll be going round and round in your head for days, the pop anthem is not only insanely catchy, but also comes accompanied by an iconic video that’ll go down in music history. Who else is gonna successfully pull off a pole dance to hell followed by giving Satan a lapdance?!
10. Charli XCX - ‘Good Ones’
“The first single of my new chapter embraces all that my life has to offer in today’s world - fame, glamour, inner demons and global hits.” With this statement, Charli XCX welcomed us into XCX5 era with ‘Good Ones’. A stomping synth-fuelled banger, all about preferring bad guys over the good ones, it was true global hit, destined to be an instant dancefloor filler and further cement Charli as one of the most creative pop stars of our time.
9. Remi Wolf - ‘Quiet On Set’
From an “orgy at Five Guys with five guys” via cheeky nods to Chuck-E-Cheeze, The Human Centipede and Two Girls, One Cup, no song this year embraced pop culture with such reckless abandon as this ‘Juno’ standout. Described by the singer as representing her “overworked, manic, reckless and childish” mood at the time, the Californian’s greatest talent is in taking these troubled states and turning them into something playful, idiosyncratic and stupidly fun. By the time ‘Quiet On Set’ finishes with a wonderfully bizarre baby-voiced outro, Remi Wolf’s status as a true original is left in no question.
8. Paris Texas - ‘Heavy Metal’
It’s all too rare that even the first few seconds of a song will make you stop in your tracks - ‘HEAVY METAL’, the introduction for most to LA duo Paris Texas, was however one such moment. A skittish, looped grunge riff that’s immediately both exciting and hypnotic, high-octane wordplay (“Got these tabs on my tongue like a browser”, “Grab Orion belt then you get whipped”) and a guitar-based chorus that hit the spot while real-life moshpits were no more than a mirage in the socially-distanced desert, with this one Felix and Louis Pastel were on to a winner.
7. Sam Fender - ‘Seventeen Going Under’
Setting the stage for what Sam Fender would call his “coming of age story”, the title track to his incendiary second album ‘Seventeen Going Under’ is as heart-thumping, chest-bumping as we’ve come to expect from the North East songwriter. But this time around, there’s something more intensely personal at play; as a result, it makes for a more powerful offering. Approaching things with a keener eye for detail, the track gives an intoxicating view of Sam’s own life growing up in a working class town, battling the daily teenage struggles of rebellion, toxic expectation and regret that so often follow young men, especially. And yet, even standing as such a personal track, ‘Seventeen Going Under’ still feels universal in its celebration of survival.
6. Olivia Rodrigo - ‘Good 4 U’
Expertly catching the feeling of when you see a recent ex thriving, Olivia Rodrigo’s ‘Good 4 U’ is the perfect example of how to write a petty and cutting pop smash. Blending pop-punk influences and a hint of Paramore’s ‘Misery Buisness’ into the pop banger, the track is the undoubted standout of her breakup-soundtrack debut album ‘Sour’. Full of striking lyrics and infectious riffs, all together now: “Good for you you’re doing great out there without me, baby, LIKE A DAMN SOCIOPATH!”
5. Billie Eilish - ‘Happier Than Ever’
The queen of clever, understated bangers, by the time Billie Eilish’s second album rolled around the still-teen had already broken the internet multiple times over, with little more - musically or personally - to prove. ‘Happier Than Ever’’s title track, however, added a new dimension that we didn’t even know we needed from the star. Where Billie’s stock-in-trade has always been minimalism, ‘Happier Than Ever’ goes unashamedly big, coaxing the listener into a false sense of security with a soft lullaby beginning before unleashing the singer’s most all-out anthemic moment to date. Pity the poor fool who ‘Happier Than Ever’ was written about; they’ll have to listen to this iconic ‘fuck you’ screamed back by millions for years to come.
4. Wolf Alice - ‘Smile’
The two sides of Wolf Alice have always managed to coexist comfortably, and the group’s decision to follow ‘The Last Man On Earth’, the understated, delicate first taste of eventual chart-topping third album ‘Blue Weekend’ with the snarling, riff-heavy ‘Smile’ is a wonderful reflection of that. Pairing one of the group’s heaviest sounds yet with Ellie Rowsell spitting perfectly-articulated venom (“Don’t call me mad / There’s a difference, I’m angry / And your choice to call me cute has offended me” “And now you all think I’m unhinged / But wind it up and this honeybee stings / Did you think I was a puppet on strings?”) and a soaring chorus to beat ‘em all. Their “greatest moment to date” we said back on its April release, and eight months on, post huge festival slots and telly appearances, that sentiment has only grown.
3. Muna feat. Phoebe Bridgers - ‘Silk Chiffon’
Having signed to Phoebe Bridgers’ Saddest Factory Records earlier this year, LA trio MUNA returned with their first new music in over a year, bringing along label boss Phoebe for the ride too. Full of good vibes, ‘Silk Chiffon’ was described by producer and guitarist Naomi McPherson as “a song for kids to have their first gay kiss to”. A sunshine-soaked queer love anthem, the track saw the three-piece flexing their more poppy muscles to delightful effect. And we don’t know what magic they injected into the line “got my mini-skirt and my rollerblades on” that would make even the toughest of critics crack a smile, but we absolute love to see it.
2. Wet Leg - ‘Chaise Longue’
Rarely has a debut single made such a universal and instant impact than when Isle of Wight duo Wet Leg emerged this summer with an irresistible tune about flirting, furniture and Mean Girls. On ‘Chaise Longue’ – the song that has made the pair the hottest property of 2021 all on its own – Rhian Teasdale and Hester Chambers are clearly having the most fun in the world, and this giddiness rubs off on anyone who enters its orbit. A simply perfect indie-rock song, it’s the kind of undeniable hit that you feel lucky to witness.
1. Self Esteem - ‘I Do This All The Time’
When Self Esteem first ushered in her new ‘Prioritise Pleasure’ era with its first single, it was hard not to be floored. One moment a silky, meditative pep talk, the next, a raw spoken word piece detailing Rebecca Lucy Taylor’s own stories of toxic relationships and experiences, ‘I Do This All The Time’ was astonishing from the off. Filled with visceral detail and honesty, RLT’s narration manages to reflect that paranoid, overthinking voice that eventually haunts (mostly) all of us, before transforming the track into a glimmering but defiant statement of intent (“I’ll take care, I’ll read again, I’ll sing again / I will”) that also embodies the spirit of her incredible second album. A daring track that lays everything - neuroses, worries, pain - out for all to see, it’s this sense of candour that ultimately makes ‘I Do This All The Time’ so moving and intoxicating.
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