Despite the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, 2021 managed to be a good year for music. As well as the return of live events, it also saw a wealth of new music releases covering every genre. Despite the problems and issues the music industry faced, musicians always find a way to continue working.
On that basis, we rounded up a selection of tracks that captured the spirit of the year which included old favourites as well as new, emerging talents. Here, in no particular order, are the 20 tracks that stood out for Wavegirl in 2021…
PRINCESS CENTURY – Still The Same
Taken from her new album s u r r e n d e r, Maya Postepski delivered on all fronts with the painfully wistful ‘Still The Same’.
Princess Century’s bittersweet composition was seeped in longing and frustration, matched with sumptuous, sequenced beats. Meanwhile, Postepski’s evocative vocal tops off a narrative revolving around themes of absence and loss (“You’re still the same/But I need you now/I need you more again”).
MOODBAY – My Thing
Electropop duo Moodbay have done an impressive turn previously, care of solid tunes such as the synth sweeps of ‘Video Games’ and the hypnotic ‘Like Nobody Else’.
Consisting of Alfie Cattell and Anna Stephens, the duo cite influences as diverse as The Weeknd, Portishead, Massive Attack and Christine and the Queens. ‘My Thing’ (see review) offers up more of a groove perhaps than on previous outings, broadening Moodbay’s range. Yet Anna Stephens’ soulful vocals are still front and centre, while there’s plenty of subtle electronic flourishes sprinkled across this song that keep the listener’s attention.
PARAGON CAUSE – Making Up For Lost Time
The mesmerising combination of twilight electronics and guitar riffs demonstrated that Ottawa-based combo Paragon Cause were an outfit worth watching.
‘Making Up For Lost Time’ (see review) is a stunning number that hits like an emotional tidal wave. The fuzzy layers of guitars give the entire composition a warm, immersive vibe that’s tough to shake off.
A VOID – Stepping On Snails
Previously, Wavegirl cast an eye over Awkward And Devastated, an album from rock trio A Void that dealt with qualities of frustration and disaffected youth. A Void cite the likes of Sonic Youth, Hole and Babes In Toyland as influences. There’s certainly an element of grunge In the DNA of the band, epitomised by the fuzzy guitars and stark percussion.
The crunchy guitar-fuelled ‘Stepping On Snails’ demonstrated that they could still serve up some raw, unpolished tunes with a vital energy.
SPRAY – Felicette (Space Cat)
Spray’s knack for synth hooks kicks this song into high gear against a charming little lyrical narrative.
Taken from the album Ambiguous Poems About Death (see Wavegirl review), it serves as an example of euphoric pop or, as the duo would say: “Spray’s tried and tested formula of overblown escapism.”
NAZ & ELLA – No (Doesn’t Mean Convince Me)
The stark simplicity of ‘No (Doesn’t Mean Convince Me)’ (see Wavegirl review) serves to strengthen the song’s central message which revolves around the theme of the normalisation of sexual harassment that many women experience, particularly in bars and clubs. Naz & Ella’s alternative folk approach is pulled from a raft of influences, including Nirvana, PJ Harvey and The Raveonettes among others.
It’s a composition that builds on layered effects and a good use of vocal harmonics that are warm and engaging – something thrown into stark contrast by the lyrical narrative. Lines such as “Sexualised then demonised when we don’t reciprocate” drive home a sobering observation. On that basis, ‘No (Doesn’t Mean Convince Me)’ is a song that’s compelling, but also unsettling.
WOLF ALICE – Delicious Things
Pulled from their excellent 2021 release Blue Weekend (see review), ‘Delicious Things’ is easily one of the album’s finest moments – a shimmering slice of moody guitars backing a narrative-led vocal by Rowsell.
The song wrestles with an American setting beset by anxiety and joy, as well as exploring perhaps the journey that the band have taken in recent years (“A girl like me/Would you believe I’m in Los Angeles?”).
MOGWAI – Ritchie Sacramento
Mogwai served up a particularly stunning moment from their As The Love Continues album (see our review previously).
‘Ritchie Sacramento’ is an epic, heartfelt song with a melancholic quality delivered by Stuart Braithwaite’s vocal. It’s a song that references lost friends, including David Berman (Silver Jews) and Scott Hutchison (Frightened Rabbit), so there’s a personal touch at work. Its power lingers long after the final note is struck.
GOLD BABY – Captain Dorego
Having gone through some line-up changes in recent years, Gold Baby have embraced a more mature, more grounded aspect lately.
‘Captain Dorego’ offers up a warm, evocative mood – complete with a charming video (warning: video contains flashing images). It’s also a composition that takes its inspiration from a more offbeat idea. Based on the medieval concept of cockaigne — an imaginary place of extreme luxury and ease where physical comforts and pleasures are immediately at hand and where the harshness of medieval peasant life does not exist.
A.N.J.A. – Monoxide
There’s a stylish garage rock vibe to A.N.J.A.’s (aka Anja Romer) music within its noir trappings as ‘Monoxide’ demonstrates (see Wavegirl review).
The chief idea behind the composition was born out of her anger over the helplessness of a majority of female victims in homicide cases. Yet the song plays around with the switching of roles and embraces ideas of empowerment. “You can read the lyrics to ‘Monoxide’ two ways” comments Romer, “On the one hand, there is this mysterious abductor on the lookout for her next victim. On the other hand, it’s a song about fun, seduction and a sweet escape.”
SHE DREW THE GUN – Class War (How Much)
Merseyside’s She Drew The Gun (aka Louisa Roach) served up ‘Class War (How Much)’, a pointed political song that also boasts superb arrangements and Roach’s catchy vocal melodies.
Taken from new album Behave Myself, Roach offered some background on the song: “It’s about how much we let corruption go in plain sight and accept a politician’s answer when these people are at the front of a ruthless class war being waged against those of us who live on the wrong side of Capital.”
COZY SLIPPERS – When Will When Come?
New Cozy Slippers release ‘When Will When Come?’ embraced the band’s talent for shimmering guitar pop and firm, dynamic arrangements (see Wavegirl review).
Throwing a nod to surf rock, there’s something both raw yet hopeful at work here which brings to mind the likes of everything from early REM to Tacocat. The percussion is brisk with some tight guitar grooves, both driving along a breezy pop number that has an upbeat, engaging quality to it. Lines such as “Morning’s just the same/nothing surprising” roll off with a charming nonchalance.
REVIVALRY – Shame On You
This tight indie rock outing is marked with some great melodies and also an effective vocal. But perhaps the most surprising aspect of Cleethorpes-based Revivalry is that the average age of the musicians is 14. Despite their age, Revivalry are off the starting blocks with some considerable talent.
‘Shame On You’ (which comes complete with a witty video) was also mixed and Mastered by Nick Brine. Nick’s past work includes ‘What’s the Story Morning Glory’ and ‘Be Here Now’ by Oasis as well as ‘Second Coming’ by The Stone Roses among others.
OKNOAH – Sort It Out
Hailing from Bern, okNoah (see Wavegirl feature previously) offers up wistful bedroom pop that manages to tackle the struggles in everyday life. Fuelled chiefly by guitar and the musician’s impressive vocal talents, the music has a heartfelt strength which is packed with hooks and warm harmonies.
The charming ‘Sort It Out’ features a jangly guitar foundation that keeps things busy, while okNoah’s vocals have a laid-back insouciance about them. There’s also a talent for melody and arrangement with a great use of harmony.
Recorded and produced by okNoah himself, the end result is a wonderful slice of alt-pop that has a polish and a zip to it that manages to lurk around in your head for hours after listening to the song. There’s also some smart brassy fills thrown into the mix for good measure.
CULT WITH NO NAME – The Automatic Day
Following on from 2019’s critically-acclaimed Mediaburn (Wavegirl Album of 2019), Nights in North Sentinel represents Cult With No Name’s 10th studio album. The duo of Erik Stein and Jon Boux have previously built up a reputation for music that’s thoughtful and reflective, driven by Boux’s warm, engaging piano melodies and Stein’s laidback lyrical narratives.
‘The Automatic Day’, which features on Nights in North Sentinel, throws a nod to OMD in its synth layers, along with some musings on the mundanity of routine.
HEAVENSTAMP – Sail to Heaven
Japanese rock outfit Heavenstamp originally formed in 2009 and released new album From the Basement earlier this year (see our review). Heavenstamp come armed with some formidable songwriting talents via Sally#Cinnamon’s bold vocal style, while Tomoya.S brings a sharp ear for harmonies and arrangement.
‘Sail to Heaven’ is a good example of this, a composition that has a beguiling quality, enhanced by Sally’s mesmerising vocals.
SCARLET – Wrong Way
Emerging from the Northwest of England, Scarlet (see our feature previously) are a four piece alt-rock outfit that have managed to win critical acclaim in recent years for their energetic indie rock.
‘Wrong Way’ serves up a brash guitar-heavy outing that’s also slickly produced. The song’s grunge aspirations are matched against Jessie Robinson’s distinctive vocals, giving the whole affair an oddly effective power. Despite the polished approach, it’s also a tune that still has a rawness and energy that resonates.
WEB RUMORS – New Wave Heartache
‘New Wave Heartache’ via Em Burrow’s Web Rumors (see Wavegirl review) combines organic and electronic instrumentation that seems to throw a nod back to the art rock outings of the 1980s.
Lyrically, the song started as a riff on the German phrase “alt romantisch” (old romantic). “It’s about being an “old” romantic in a “new” world” comments Burrows, “that idea of a dreamer grappling with the realities of modern life.”. The end result is a smart, contemplative tune. Warm synths mesh with guitar alongside some shrewd sax fills, delivering a wistful number matched by Burrows’ yearning vocals.
HOPDOT – Before We All Go Under
Having built up a history as a composer working with a number of lyricists over the years, David Hopper combined his composing talents with the vocal talents of his daughter Amy and lyricist Philip Swallow. As a result, HOPdot was born (see Wavegirl feature previously).
‘Before We All Go Under’ features a plaintive piano melody matched by Amy’s wistful, breathy vocal. Taking its inspiration from the current Covid crisis, despite the gloomy topic, the song has a strange, haunting beauty to it.
MARINA – Purge The Poison
Ancient Dreams in a Modern Land (see review) offered perhaps more spirit and more bite than Marina’s previous album (2019’s Love + Fear). This was certainly evidenced in the stunning song ‘Purge the Poison’.
The powerful polemic sees Marina casting an eye on climate change, #metoo, misogyny and pretty much all points in between. It’s one of the album’s highlights, a driving pulse-pounding pop banger that provides an earworm that’s tough to shift.