E/O's Top 50 Songs of 2021 (So Far...)

The best songs of 2021 so far named in E/O's ultimate half year playlist.


You've had the album list, now let's get to the songs. It was no easy feat to narrow down the fantastic mix of tracks I've heard this year to just 50 of the best, but I've just about managed to do it after hours spent cutting longlists to shortlists until they eventually became this list you see below. Whether it's pop, rock, rap, hip-hop, R&B, electronica, dance, folk, country, jazz or hyperpop nu-metal remixes you're after, I've got you covered with these tunes.


Along the way I've included videos, pictures, lyrics, quotes, outtakes and fresh takes to explain why each and every one of these tracks merits inclusion on the ultimate 2021 playlist you're going to hear at this stage of the year. Oh, and don't forget to check it out on Spotify while you read along. Hopefully you'll be blasting these tracks on repeat until the full list drops in December.


So sit back, turn up the volume and enjoy the 50 best songs of 2021... so far.



'Xcxoplex (with Charli XCX)' - A.G Cook


Released: 6th May

Album: Apple vs. 7G


PC Music founder and pioneering producer A.G Cook has redefined modern pop music alongside Charli XCX over the past half decade, so it's little surprise that their latest collaboration is another glorious spectacle. By redesigning one of the heavier electronic instrumentals on Cook's 2020 solo project Apple and evolving 'Xxoplex' into 'Xcxoplex', Cook and Charli strike gold again on yet another hyperpop masterwork.


Close your eyes and elevate.

'Out Loud' - Annemarie Quinn


Released: 22nd January

Album: Blue Sky Thinking


What I Said: "The overall effect is a joyous listening experience that bursts with color, spirit and soul. A celebration of African musical culture and as well as the wonders of collaboration, Blue Sky Thinking is a glorious discovery that you'll be thankful exists to remind you that sunny days aren't far away."



'It Is What It Is' - The Antlers


Released: 26th March

Album: Green To Gold


Concluding a near flawless front half of Antlers' sixth record from this past March, centerpiece 'It Is What It Is' possesses a beaming horn section and twinkling piano keys which make for the most outright beautiful moment amongst the ten tracks on Green To Gold.


'Black Dog' - Arlo Parks


Released: 29th January

Album: Collapsed In Sunbeams


What They Said: "A very special song to me. I wrote this about my best friend. I remember writing that song and feeling so confused and helpless trying to understand depression and what she was going through, and using music as a form of personal catharsis to work through things that felt impossible to work through. I recorded the vocals with this lump in my throat because it was so raw.


Musically, I was harking back to songs like “Nude” and “House of Cards” on In Rainbows, plus music by Nick Drake and tracks from Sufjan Stevens’ Carrie & Lowell. I wanted something that felt stripped down." - Arlo Parks, via Apple Music

'L8r Boi' - Ashnikko


Released: 15th January

Album: DEMIDEVIL


He was a punk, she did ballet
What the fuck does it matter anyway?


'Last Day On Earth' - beabadoobee


Released: 25th March

Album: Our Extended Play EP


Shoop-doo-doo, shoop-doo, badoobadoo
Shoop-doo, shoop-doo-badoo, oh yeah
Shoop-doo, shoop-doo, badoobadoo
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah


'American Beauty' - Biig Piig


Released: 21st May

Album: The Sky Is Bleeding EP


What I Said: "It's the most cohesive and complete statement yet from the Irish songwriter (born in Cork, raised in Spain, now living in London). Leaving on final note of lo-fi indie rock bliss with 'American Beauty', you get the feeling that there are bigger things ahead of Smyth in the not too distant future."


'Sunglasses' - Black Country, New Road


Released: 5th February

Album: For the first time


What I Said: "Perhaps the best source of memorable one liners is epic centerpiece 'Sunglasses'.... For the first time seems to be cleverly constructed around the mounting tension and claustrophobia of its near ten-minute slowcore symphony, as Wood wildly reels off classist and narcissistic rants as well as performing an intensely personal if vaguely preposterous examination of his own self-image, set amid the backdrop of a doomed relationship which ultimately ties into the album's loose concept on the life cycle of a failed romance."


'Civil Twilight' - Bobsleigh Bob


Released: 12th February

Album: How To Measure A Coastline


What I Said: "...lead single and centerpiece 'Civil Twilight' takes over on the best track of this project. The single stood out when I first heard it for perfectly encapsulating Bob's downtempo hybrid of indie and electronica, and it makes for an assured centerpiece here, as well as the ultimate example of Bob's songwriting skills to date, with a lowkey beguiling hook in its chorus that you'll find yourself drawn back to."


'Floating' - BRÍDÍN


Released: 24th February

Album: Ocean of Stars EP


What I Said: "Floating' earns its title with an alluring mix of harp, piano, layered vocals and percussion as BRÍDÍN sings a hypnotic refrain that levitates over and underneath its alluring wave of instrumentation."



'Leave The Door Open' - Silk Sonic


Released: 5th March

Album: An Evening With Silk Sonic (To Be Released)



'Hard Drive' - Cassandra Jenkins


Released: 20th January

Album: An Overview On Phenomenal Nature


What They Said: "I just love talking to people, to strangers. The heart of the song is people talking about the nature of things, but often, what they’re doing is actually talking about themselves and expressing something about themselves. I think that every person that I meet has wisdom to give and it’s just a matter of turning that key with people. Because when you turn it and you open that door, you can be given so much more than you ever expected. Really listening, being more of a journalist in my own just day-to-day life—rather than trying to influence my surroundings, just letting them hit me."


- Cassandra Jenkins, via Apple Music


'The Darkness That You Fear' - The Chemical Brothers


Released: 23rd April

Album: N/A


What They Said: "The Darkness That You Fear is a hopeful piece of music. When we found the combination of the different voices worked set to the flow of the music, it made us feel optimistic — like it was something we wanted to share."


- Tom Rowlands



'Her Hippo' - Dry Cleaning


Released: 2nd April

Album: New Long Leg


The house is just twelve years old
Soft landscaping in the garden
An electrician stuck his finger in the plug hole
And shouted "Yabba"



'Crush' - Ethel Cain


Released: 18th March

Album: Inbred EP


What I Said: "2021 could be huge for Ethel Cain judging by the mass appeal her dark emo pop/rock possesses, not to mention the quality songwriting and lyricism that she backs it up with. Cain has already built up a cult following of ''Daughters'' through her raw piano and acoustic ballads, which draw on the gritty influence of her deep Southern backwoods origins, and it's clear from the murky, hauntingly evocative sound of Inbred that this is a potential star in the making."


'Birthday/The Pain' - For Those I Love


Released: 26th March

Album: For Those I Love


There's an immediately identifiable range of influences to be found amongst the progressive house beats of For Those I Love's sublime album of the year contender - Jamie xx, James Blake and The Streets were all mentioned when I reviewed the album back in April. But what came to my mind when I heard the ingenious sample of The Sentiments' 'She Won't Be Gone Long' transformed from smooth soul jam into the shimmering electronic beauty of 'Birthday/The Pain' was the sonic mastery of Kanye West.


The high of its euphoric beat is cruelly snatched away when Balfe's voice enters the track, sucking us into the tragic story of a murder on our narrator's road when he was just six year old. It's as frighteningly real and mercilessly gritty as the lyrical content gets on For Those I Love, as Balfe spits with rage about the passing of another year.


So don't fucking ask me why I don't want to age,
It just marks the time of things staying the same

And then, in a moment that so perfectly encapsulates the central message of love over loss that Balfe so profoundly explores throughout For Those I Love, just as it all seems so hopeless and bleak to the point of no return, the music kicks back in and it's alright again. For now.


But the songs sound fun, and you dance with your mates,
And it's grand then,
Until the next day.



'BODY' - FYA FOX


Released: 19th February

Album: N/A


One of the hottest new acts in a burgeoning Irish electropop scene, FYA FOX dropped her best single to date back in February on 'BODY'. An atmospheric single that showcased the considerable chops of its powerful vocalist, 'BODY' is the surest sign yet that FYA is destined for mainstream success this year and beyond.


Fans of FKA twigs, Banks and London Grammar - don't miss this.

'I Wanna Help Your Mind' - Goth Babe


Released: 10th March

Album: N/A



'Gasoline (feat. Taylor Swift)' - HAIM


Released: 19th February

Album: Women In Music Pt III (Expanded Edition)




'Good Night, I Hope The Future Brings You Only The Best!' - Himera


Released: 12th February

Album: N/A


One of the most inspired instrumental tracks of the year to date. I couldn't do any more justice to 'Good Night, I Hope The Future Brings You Only The Best!' than Himera himself does in his own description of the track below.


What They Said: "A gift for Lunar New Year from Himera and unseelie. As the stars blend with the bursts of light from fireworks they form a gateway to bring new blessings and luck across the galaxy. The instruments in this composition tell a story of hope and celebrate the beauty of small victories. The Disney Channel-esque melody sets a nostalgic tone that evokes a feeling of childhood excitement, and transports the listener to dimension of playfulness and joy."


- Himera, via Bandcamp


'Stay' - Israel Nash


Released: 12th March

Album: Topaz


The cacophony of soulful, existential folk to be found on Topaz never sounds better than on 'Stay', a stirring country rock ballad that packs a melodic punch the like of which would make Van Morrison or Neil Young proud.


Topaz may have just missed the cut for my album list this past week to the chagrin of my fellow music critic Kiley Larsen who put me onto this glorious record, but 'Stay' is a surefire contender for a top place come December in the year end song list.


'Be Sweet' - Japanese Breakfast


Released: 2nd March

Album: Jubilee


What They Said: "So we decided we’d just write a pop song to sell and make some money. We didn’t have anyone specific in mind, we just knew it wasn’t going to be for either of us. Of course, once we started putting it together, I realised I really loved it. I think the distance of writing it for ‘someone else’ allowed me to take on this sassy ‘80s women-of-the-night persona. To me, it almost feels like a Madonna, Whitney Houston or Janet Jackson song."


- Michelle Zauner, via Apple Music



'Hardline' - Julien Baker


Released: 13th January

Album: Little Oblivions


Little Oblivions was a disappointment. Its underwhelming transition to a full rock band sound resulted in a loss of the understated beauty in Baker's vocal power, but the epic climax of the emotional barnstormer that is 'Hardline' would argue differently, showing that there is serious merit in the songwriter expanding her sonic repertoire when it's executed like the final minute of this superb opener. If only the rest of the album had lived up to it.


'Keep Moving' - Jungle


Released: 23rd March

Album: N/A


If you don't feel like a good old fashioned boogie when you hear the funkiest track of the year courtesy of Jungle, then I simply refuse to believe that you are human.


Observe:


'Heartbeats' - Kollidr


Released: 26th March

Album: N/A


Another seriously groovetastic number, husband and wife duo Kollidr dropped their debut single 'Heartbeats' this past March and it's a blast - an electro house banger and an absolutely perfect tune for some summer vibes.


'Breastmilk' - The Koreatown Oddity


Released: 26th January

Album: N/A


You're looking at me like I'm a strange human
But you drinking cow's milk; fuck is you doing?


'White Dress' - Lana Del Rey


Released: 19th March

Album: Chemtrails Over The Country Club


What I Said: "...an arresting piece of whispered falsetto that finds its artist breathlessly reflecting on life before fame and success as a waitress in Long Island. It's a poignant, punchy way to start the album, blending a daring vocal performance with timeless Del Rey touches in its classic Americana imagery and Raymond Carver tales of everyday American life and middle class suburbia."


'MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)' - Lil Nas X


Released: 26th March

Album: N/A




'One Step Closer - 100 gecs Reanimation' - Linkin Park, 100 gecs


Released: 8th January

Album: N/A


Remember that hyperpop nu-metal remix I mentioned?


Strap yourself in for the wildest ride of the year on Laura Les and Dylan Brady's spectacularly nasty interpretation of the Hybrid Theory classic.


Now how about the rest of the album...? Please?


'Introvert' - Little Simz


Released: 21st April

Album: Sometimes I Might Be Introvert (To Be Released)


I bottle up and then spill it in verses
One day I'm wordless, next day I'm a wordsmith



'I Lied (feat. Allison Ponthier)' - Lord Huron


Released: 29th April

Album: Long Lost


What I Said: "...a cinematic road trip through the Western American desert with a sultry blend of country, folk and baroque rock... its distinct Mariachi indebted compositions result in Ben Schneider & co's most lavish instrumental work to date."



'Thumbs' - Lucy Dacus


Released: 9th March

Album: Home Video


What They Said: "I wasn’t expecting it and it made me feel weird, almost sick... I knew I wanted a long time to get used to playing it since it made me feel shaky, so I ended sets with it for about half the shows I played in 2019. Before I played it, I would ask the audience to please not record it, a request that seems to have been respected, which I’m grateful for."


'Dark Side Of The Party' - Miss Grit


Released: 5th February

Album: Imposter EP


What I Said: "Miss Grit flexes some serious guitar skills on the experimental rock of her Imposter EP."



'Do You Wanna' - Nana Yamato


Released: 5th February

Album: Before Sunrise


Nana Yamato sings evocatively of lonely Tokyo nights on her dark, dreamy debut Before Sunrise, introducing us to her world with the brooding yet playful synths of bedroom pop anthem 'Do You Wanna'.



'Spinning (with Charli XCX & The 1975)' - No Rome


Released: 4th March

Album: N/A


I was excited to say the least in late February when Charli casually announced on Twitter that she was forming a supergroup with The 1975 (and No Rome, sure). Turned out that was slightly overstating the case as it was just a one off for 'Spinning', but hey it was pretty fun while it lasted.


I guess I'm nothing if not predictable - stick Charli and Matty on the same track and yep, you've got a spot on this list.



'deja vu' - Olivia Rodrigo


Released: 1st April

Album: Sour


I normally like to keep these things to one song per artist, and with the exception of Charli XCX and Taylor Swift appearing twice by way of features, that's the rule I've stuck by again this time around. But in the year of Olivia Rodrigo, 'deja vu' and my next pick are undeniable exceptions that it's impossible to omit when talking about the songs of the year.


Rodrigo's astronomical rise to superstardom has been the story of the year so far, and on the basis of her first two singles alone the 18 year old's unprecedented success is totally justified, as the young songwriter delivered not only two of the biggest singles of the year but two of the very best.


What I Said: "...the arrival of 'deja vu' in April immediately dispelled any notions of a one hit wonder. Rodrigo capitalized on an already outrageous level of success by arguably topping her major label debut track with the wicked dream pop bliss of her spellbinding second single. Paying sublime homage to Olivia's most overt influence, 'deja vu' premiered a decidedly Swiftian piece of electropop that recalled the work of Taylor's 1989 in all the right ways."



'drivers license' - Olivia Rodrigo


Released: 8th January

Album: Sour


What I Said: "...just eight days into the year, the former Disney Channel star dropped what will undoubtedly go down as the biggest song of 2021, setting all time streaming records with one of the most dominant number one hit singles in modern chart. Within a week, Rodrigo's twisted suburban fairytale of love gone wrong had debuted at number one around the world, captivating audiences globally with an enchanting fusion of bedroom pop and power balladry, not to mention Rodrigo's heart wrenching delivery and poetic lyrical prose into the mix.


Eight days into the year, music audiences worldwide pumped their fists as the bridge kicked in and Rodrigo hit those red lights. It's only May, but don't be surprised come December to find yourself still singing along as Rodrigo drives alone down the street."



What They Said: "To me, “drivers license” was never one of those songs that I would think: ‘It’s a hit song.’ It’s just a little slice of my heart, this really sad song. It was really cool for me to see evidence of how authenticity and vulnerability really connect with people. And everyone always says that, but you really never know... That’s just surreal, a songwriter’s dream."



'Nothing's Special' - Oneohtrix Point Never, ROSALÍA


Released: 19th May

Album: N/A


Those hoping for a return closer to the experimental sound of ROSALÍA's defining 2018 album El Mal Querer may find it in her exquisite collaboration with Oneohtrix Point Never from last month, as the Brooklyn based producer lays down an ambient electronic instrumental for the Catalonian songwriter to serenade us atop. More of this would be most welcome as we approach the 27 year old's third record, which is hopefully dropping later this year.


'Station Wagon' - shame


Released: 15th January

Album: Drunk Tank Pink


What I Said: "...the final moments of 'Station Wagon' see the record peak all the way to its last note. The explosive, face-melting climax of Drunk Tank Pink's closer stands as shame's finest moment to date."



'nhs' - slowthai


Released: 12th February

Album: TYRON


What I Said: "...slowthai pours his heart and soul into his best ever verses with a life affirming message that could sound rote coming from another artist but instead feels like a well earned victory lap when considering Frampton's tough upbringing."


What's love without hate and stuff? Loyalty without no trust?
Rick without Morty? Lil Wayne without codeine?
A rapper without jewellery? Real person, surely
What's health without poorly?
What's wealth without the poor? Please
The world we're living in, I'm tryna give you reassurance



'Glasgow' - The Snuts


Released: 2nd April

Album: W.L


What I Said: "...it's clear to see why Snuts have captured the hearts and minds of so many in the UK and Ireland with their throwback indie guitar tunes transporting listeners back to the noughties heyday of post-Britpop. This is music made for the main stage."


'La Perla' - Sofia Kourtesis


Released: 2nd February

Album: Fresia Magdalena EP


What I Said: "The Peruvian DJ's colorful production makes for seriously infectious listening whether you're a house fan or more often not (like this guy). These are floor fillers plain and simple, but with a bold and bright twist that separates Kourtesis from the rest of the scene in her adopted home of Berlin."


'Down' - St. Vincent


Released: 14th May

Album: Daddy's Home


What They Said: "The song ‘Down’ is basically a revenge fantasy. He [Jack Antonoff] played some ripping drums and some Wurli and I was playing guitar and it was just so fun. I’m so glad that rather than stewing and being aggrieved, I get to turn it into something that’s super fun."


- Annie Clark, via Apple Music



'Missing Out' - Syd


Released: 12th February

Album: N/A


The former Syd Tha Kyd (Odd Future, The Internet) returned on her first solo single since 2017's Fin with this contemplative alt R&B number, a deeply ruminative break up ballad and yet more evidence if any was needed that the OF collective was always packing more star power than just Tyler, Earl and Frank.


'Good Days' - SZA


Released: 25th December

Album: TBA


Despite endless label disputes and album delays, the entire music community is still holding its breath for that second SZA album precisely because she keeps dropping amazing tracks like 'Good Days' or 'Hit Different' (which placed 46 on E/O's 2020 song list) every time these singles eventually see the light of day.


If we do get the album this year, it should be a worthy successor to 2017's stunning CTRL going by the sound of this.



'Love Story (Taylor's Version)' - Taylor Swift


Released: 12th February

Album: Fearless (Taylor's Version)


What I Said: "...unleashes the full potential of Swift's voice, with an utterly mesmerizing delivery throughout that showcases the bluesy maturation of the singer's tenor in recent years. In turn, these songs are gifted a level of richness and dexterity that was perhaps out of reach for Taylor as a performer in her late teens. The songs remain as effortlessly melodic and hopelessly romantic as ever - verified landmarks of the 21st century's popular musical canon in 'Love Story' and 'You Belong With Me' are as triumphant and charming as ever, leaning deeper into the country influence that made them the outstanding pop anthems of their generation."


'LUMBERJACK' - Tyler, The Creator


Released: 16th June

Album: Call Me If You Get Lost


The most recent addition to this list, Tyler dropped 'LUMBERJACK' just last week ahead of the surprise release of his sixth studio album today, June 25th. After the confessional poetry of landmark 2017 record Flower Boy and 2019's neo-soul odyssey IGOR, I couldn't be more excited to hear what Tyler has in store.


Judging by the sound of this lead single, it might be back to some more delightfully abrasive rap bangers, in the style of the deviously braggadocious 'LUMBERJACK'. Then again, this is one of the most unpredictable artists in hip-hop we're talking about, so predictions are surely futile. One thing is for certain though - you're going to hear one of the most intriguing hip-hop albums of 2021 this month, so don't miss it.



'Parking Lot' - The Weather Station


Released: 5th February

Album: Ignorance


What I Said: "The emotional depth of these essays is no more affecting than on the outstanding 'Parking Lot', a celebration of the natural world that finds Lindeman simply studying a bird above the city traffic with a level of poetic majesty befitting the bombastic, stirring groove laid down by band and string section on the albums finest moment."


Is it alright if I don't wanna sing tonight?

I know you are tired of seeing tears in my eyes

But everywhere we go there is an outside

Over all of these ceilings hangs a sky

'All My Favorite Songs' - Weezer


Released: 29th January

Album: OK Human


What They Said: "We weren’t worrying about commercial potential, which gave me the opportunity to just sing about whatever I was feeling in the moment, and explore my anxieties”


– Rivers Cuomo


What I Said: "The real highlights on OK Human are songs worthy of Weezer's greatest hits - lead single 'All My Favorite Songs' and late standout 'Here Comes The Rain' will no doubt go down as verifiable classics in the Weezer canon, with each boasting the very distinct, endlessly satisfying kind of hook that the band could effortlessly belt out circa 1994-1996, the kind of hook that every indie rock band worth their salt has been trying to steal ever since."



'The Last Man On Earth' - Wolf Alice


Released: 24th February

Album: Blue Weekend


And every book you take
And you dust off from the shelf
Has lines between lines between lines
That you read about yourself
But does a light shine on you?



Listen to Either/Or's Top 50 Songs of 2021 (So Far...)

That's it for now folks. It's been a pleasure covering all of the above over the past six months, and I can't wait to hear what the rest of the year has in store for us all. Keep it here at E/O to get all your album reviews, wrap ups and monthly mixes until December when we countdown the best albums and songs of the year in full.


If you like what you're reading, subscribe and follow Either/Or on Instagram and Twitter. Thanks for reading!


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