By James Pavel 

20. Surrender – Gold Star

A hippie caravan journeying through the wilderness with one cassette tape split between Neil Young and David Bowie.

19. How you been – Holy Holy 

The video features some of the best Dad dancing 2021 could offer and how could you not cut a rug to this positive greeting? How you been? carries heavy cargo in 2021, after another year of lock downs, divisiveness and at times, a complete loss of faith in everything. Unlike this season’s mandatory needles, this track is an injection of new-found hope and salvation.

18. Way back – The Lighthouse and the Whaler 

A culty chant followed by determined drums gets this tune off to a glowing start. It continues to shine as this Moby Dick sounding band breaks out the flashlights searching for the correct path back home.

17. Carry me away – John Mayer 

Nobody seems to take themselves less seriously than John Mayer, yet paradoxically, his music remains quite serious. He remains one of the most fascinating womanizers of our times and yet somehow remains a reclusive mystery. Mayer’s ability to poke fun at himself, (the 2021 album is titled ‘Sob Rock’ ) is an endearing quality, and it certainly helps when he delivers a silky smooth easy-rock, grandma pleasing track like this one.

16. Stay – The Kid Laori & Justin Bieber 

The song travels at a thousand miles an hour, which is basically the way we have been programmed to live in the current world. Crush caffeine, scroll relentlessly and drink our nights into oblivion. The song leaves even the Peloton-obsessed out of breath. 

15. Higher power – Coldplay 

Even the world’s biggest band can slowly fall into irrelevance. A Coldplay song just doesn’t feel as important as it used to be, just as a new U2 song just didn’t carry the same weight after the ‘How to Dismantle..’ album. It pains diehard Coldplay fans to admit that the biggest Coldplay songs are not from the first four albums, but are instead EDM emblazoned anthems from the past five years. “Higher Power” carries on the EDM obsession, but teases the old guard with hints of past glamour that used to give us joyful rushes of blood to the head.

14. KD and lunch meat – Boy Golden 

A song about scrounging up just enough money to get stoned and drunk will always resonate, but it feels a little extra close to home during the pandemic era. Anybody that was broke pre-Covid was definitely broke during and after (?) Covid and many of us got by on alphagetti, tuna sandwiches and in Boy Golden’s case, cardboard pasta and processed meats. The greatest test of a relationship is getting by with no money. If you can make it work with only a few hundred bucks between the two of you, you might have just found your forever partner. 

13. Look alive – Black Pistol Fire 

Leather jackets and cruising Harleys through firestorms. The world is on fire, this time literally, but if you can’t breathe at least do your best to demonstrate signs of life. The track has that eerie griminess that the Black Keys have made a professional living out of, but with a broader vocal range. 

12. Woopie – Still Woozy 

This is what elevator music in 2021 should sound like. Bouncy, positive and promises of taking us somewhere higher. 

11. My own worst enemy – Robert Delong 

A classic theme in rock music – nobody knows how to fuck me over better than the person in the mirror. It’s so depressing that it almost becomes comical.  Delong at times sounds delirious as though he is about to burst out laughing at his own personal self-sabotage. 

10. Happier than Ever – Billie Eilish 

Billie transports Nirvana 90’s pain and suffering to mix with modern-day angst. And yet although it begins as soft and tender, the song reveals a declaration of happiness and freedom. Gaslighting, over-sharing and one-sided stories on social media are embarrassing and not feathers in one’s cap. Get over yourself because I certainly am-  the ethos of being happier than ever. You don’t believe her because the truth is too much to bear – an ominous maybe hovers that perhaps the person you thought you scorched and scorned forever, has risen like a phoenix with stronger and prettier wings than ever imagined. 

9. Superstar- Beach House 

Is anyone more consistent than this brilliant band? The signature layers that they slowly add throughout their songs feels like your mother piling blankets on top of you before sleep.

8. In need of repair – Band of Horses 

Self-improvement is at the top of this group’s priority list. There has never existed an era where we have been more hyper-critical of ourselves. Whereas before we may have been susceptible to beauty expectations via billboards and grocery store magazines, we are now given hourly reminders of how beautiful one can and should actually look via social media’s relentlessness. 

7. Crutch on You – Band of Horses 

Who isn’t a sucker for world play? A crush would just be too easy for these wild horses. They should move on, but being independent can be overrated. ‘Crutch on You’ is vulnerable and honest and will help anyone with a metaphorical bad leg know they aren’t the only one limping around. 

6. Sleepwalker – The Killers 

The global lock down did wonders for the Killers – ‘Pressure Machine’ is their greatest storytelling album to date. Mr. Flowers works best when there is a narrative to share, and that is exactly what occurs on this borderline brilliant album. ‘Sleepwalker’ is one of many beautifully written songs containing some of their best lyrics concocted. “it doesn’t come from without, it comes from within” is the stuff rib cage tattoos are inspired by. 

5. Long Lost – Lord Huron 

It sounds like the theme song to Game of Thrones if it all ended in hand holding and dancing in the sunsets instead of blood and fire. There’s a magical sensation concocted by the warmth of “Long Lost,” like retrieving a runaway animal or repairing a relationship long thought dead.

4. Brightside – Lumineers 

The campfire bandits try for something a little grittier and it serves as a fresh breath of hipster air. “Brightside” is the sound of approaching a house in the middle of the night with a quiet light awaiting in the darkness, a fitting sensation for a band labeled Lumineers. That light is of course, love – it’s the purest, least complicated song of the year.

3. Like I used to – Sharon Van Etten & Angel Olsen

It’s a dramatic soap opera with Stevie Nicks’ shadow watching in the background. It’s a perfect duet of two thundering voices and revealing diary entries. The world dramatically changed in the past two years, but heartbreak remains its usual and wretched self. Dancing by myself (like I used to,) Sleeping all day (like i used to) ..ahh the agony.

2. I don’t live here anymore- The War on Drugs feat. Lucius

Approved hipster Dad rock that should skip the classic rock radio line and be inducted into the library immediately.  We live in an “everything now” culture and we are currently hearing a band that could easily follow Tom Petty or the Eagles on your favourite station tomorrow instead of 20 years from now. “I don’t live here anymore” has snippets of Phil Collins with the smoky whispers that come from fighting the good fight.

1. 17 going under – Sam Fender 

The late teenage years seem to always be pivotal, but in the moment, they feel slightly mundane and even meaningless. Turning 17 puts one on the verge of being handed the keys to an ambiguous vehicle that drives down an unmarked highway heading towards the mysterious future. Fender has the wisdom of a bloke twice his age, reminiscing on a part of his life like a grandfather reciting war stories to attentive grandchildren. Fender’s track is important and powerful for a number of reasons, but perhaps primarily because it wasn’t built around the collective Covid-19 experience.  It is what music is always supposed to be about – a timeless story that sounds even better belted out in the neighbourhood pub – an idea we used to take for granted, but now we have to do it with a mask on and only when governments declare it safe to do so.