50. Efterklang – ‘Living Other Lives’
Starting out as a jam in Casper Clausen’s Lisbon studio during Spring 2020 lockdown the trippy early 90s rave loop quickly morphed into an anthem about our relationship with images and the digital overload of identities we’re facing while scrolling through our feeds.
49. Communions – ‘Bird Of Passage’
In a better world Copenhagen’s Communions would already be way more popular due to their magnificent indie anthems. The lead single of their latest album Pure Fabrication is a five-minute long existential epic you just want to get lost in.
48. Novaa – ‘Audre’
With gentle sensibility the beloved Berlin alt-pop artist unfolds an homage to Audre Lorde – a Black queer feminist activist and write whose essays and poems are still of importance. Carried by flutes and shy guitar strums Novaa crafts a bed for their vocals examining the important works of anti-racism and queer-feminism of Audre Lorde that still do not get enough recognition.
47. Public Service Broadcasting – ‘People, Let’s Dance’
Clearly inspired by the industrial experiments of Einstürzende Neubauten as well as the Berlin techno scene restless British sample masterminds Public Service Broadcasting managed to transport the electronic energy of the nightlife of the German capital into a proper rock song, following the band’s credo “Teaching the lessons of the past through the music of the future.”
46. Lúisa – ‘New Woman’
After a longer break we welcomed lùisa back with open arms as she embraced new artistic confidence and presented it in the form of a powerful alt pop anthem that transports female determination with style and sensibility.
45. Coldplay – ‘Higher Power”
Of course, another bubblegum pop adventure was inevitable for the British soft rock giants but despite all the gloss they are still capable of writing really good songs – and when you get iconic Swedish pop songwriter Max Martin on board you know this isn’t going to fail. And unfortunately this uplifting love song really stuck with us through many months.
44. BSÍ – ‘Vesturbæjar Beach’
Alright, we never actually celebrated Sumardagurinn fyrst (aka the first day of summer in the old Icelandic calendar) but if we would this charming DIY anthem by the Icelandic two-piece would provide the right amount of energy to “get us going all night long”.
43. Jack White – ‘Taking Me Back’
The garage rock guitar hero of our teenage years isn’t done at all – having just announced two new albums for 2022 the and only Jack White puts all doubters to rest with a mighty first single that takes his familiar blues rock vibe into futuristic territory, showing that the fire is still burning bright.
42. IDLES – ‘Car Crash’
Just when the beloved IDLES formula was on the brink of predictability the British rock sensation shakes up things with a twisted and violent take on the group’s sound. The near-death experience of singer Joe Talbot behind the wheel truly got the musical equivalent it needed to unfold its power.
41. Lucy Kruger & The Lost Boys – ‘Evening Train’
Observing the odd relationship, one has to fellow passengers on a train – going in the same direction for a few minutes of life only – Lucy Kruger & The Lost Boys captures the emotions of suddenly calling a strange place home perfectly.
40. Tuvaband – ‘Post Isolation’
Thoughout the summer we got a glimpse of what post-Covid euphoria could look and feel light although that harsh second Covid-winter once again shows us that we aren’t quite there yet. Tuva Hellum Marschhäuser found the right words and sound to capture that sensual feeling of longing for better days.
39. Eliza Shaddad – ‘Heaven’
There’s a really sweet 1990s ‘rock with pop sensibility’ vibe to this one and it’s the way Eliza Shaddad transports this honest ode about hope and life’s better moments that really made us fall for it multiple times.
38. Wallice – ’23’
Written out of a well of cooped-up anxiety and stagnation frustration, the song deals with those feelings by packing them into a firework and lighting the fuse. Wallice has taken sitting around waiting for a future that never seems to come, wrapped it up in burnt-out guitars and come up with a song that’s straight-to-the-point, irrepressibly fun.
37. Foxes – ‘Sister Ray’
The idea for this powerful dance pop anthem came from a wild part of Foxes during lockdown that was craving a night of freedom and fun again and we probably all had that feeling at least once or twice during the past almost two years. It might not share much musical spirit with the Velvet Underground track by the same name but in it’s spirit it shares that special love for the most debauched night you could imagine.
36. Snail Mail ‘Valentine’
Lindsey Jordan remains honest to the bone, asking her former lover “Why’d you wanna erase me?” while a wall of powerful rock and roll guitars drive the notion of the song forward. What a musical exclamation mark to underline her status as one of indie music’s brightest new talents.
35. Amen Dunes – ‘Feel Nothing (feat. Sleaford Mods)’
Following the praised 2018 longplayer Freedom Damon McMahon opens the next chapter of Amen Dunes with lots of surprises – and the Sleaford Mods are just one of them. More energetic, more rhythm-focussed and driven by an edgy rave-infected groove it’s a fascinating first glimpse of what’s about to follow in 2022.
34. Indigo Sparke – ‘Everything Everything’
There is an existential void that lies at the heart of this haunting piece, first made alive by soft whispers of how everything is falling apart (“Only heaven knows what to do with me”), wrapped in sparse acoustic shapes.
33. Easy Life – ‘Have A Great Day’
In a time like this it feels almost like an insult to actually wish somebody a great day but the Easy Life lads transport it with dignity and charming delight. “Life’s a beach and life’s a bitch“ sums Murray Matravers up the contradiction right at the beginning, making sure that there’s always a silver lining waiting for you on the horizon.
32. The War On Drugs – ‘I Don’t Live Here Anymore (feat. Lucius)’
Longing and searching remains key elements in Granduciel’s songwriting and although the music that surrounds these songs gets a bit slicker from release to release, the message remains: “We’re all just walkin’ through this darkness on our own” … but with a powerful anthem like this we do expect the walk to the light as a lovely challenge.
31. Bored At My Grandmas House – ‘Sometimes I Forget You’re Human Too’
Yes, Amber Strawbridge really picked her alias because that’s the setting and scenery in which she first started making songs on GarageBand. The title-rack of her debut EP is a wonderful reminder that we’re all the same in the end and that we need to find a way to accept that.
30. Damien Jurado – ‘Take Your Time’
Originally released as part of the Faithless comeback album in 2020 Damien Jurado released his own version of this soothing little song this summer and we’re more than happy that he did because it lifts the song on a more intimate level. And honestly – who could deliver such an ‘everything’s going to be okay’ anthem better than Jurado? We are the train at the station that doesn’t stop and we’re quite happy to still have this man around along the journey called life.
29. Big Red Machine – ‘Latter Days (feat. Anaïs Mitchell)’
Childhood, lost of innocence and the longing for simpler pre-adulthood times – it’s the key themes that define the second Big Red Machine record and in Anaïs Mitchell Justin Vernon and Aaron Dessner found the right voice to transport these emotions on many of the album’s magnificent songs, including this haunting lead single.
28. THALA – ‘Bad Blood’
THALA wanted this song to become a message to all the people in love and the warm sweetness of this bittersweet mid-tempo indie-rock ballad really transports that energy and are truly in love with it from the first moment we listened to it.
27. Iceage – ‘Shelter Song’
A decade on from their first record, Iceage continue to harness their lives together through music and the opening track of their most recent record Seek Shelter channels all the monumental energy of their sound into a giant musical exclamation mark that underlines why these folks are still a force to reckon with.
26. Black Country, New Road – ‘Science Fair’
A lot is going on in these six minutes – there’s distorted guitars, extensive saxophone solos and explicitly charged lyrics as the furious track progresses, underline the band’s status as one of rock music’s most interesting and adventurous bands right now.
25. Lil Nas X – ‘MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)’
Even without the infamous Satan lap dance in the accompanying music video Lil Nas X got a lot going on in this song and on his long awaited debut album. It’s a joy to see him grow into the black queer role model he was always meant to be apparently. It’s a powerful pop/rap ode about acceptance, confidence and representation – and the fact that he does all of this with a big fat grin on his face only underlines the importance of this song and its message in the year 2021.
24. Dry Cleaning – ‘Strong Feelings’
The conversational and monotone vocal performance gives the track an industrial vibe, as does the repetitive bass line and the steady beat. When the twangy reverbed guitars kick in, the post-punk song is complete and you’re all in for this strange yet captivating vibe.
23. Bleach Lab – ‘ Old Ways
One of NBHAP’s favourite new bands of the year didn’t disappoint here. Although the song explores the angry side of the grieving process at the end of a relationship this harsh feeling of anger is meanwhile dissolved in the floating aura of sound, ever so penetrating and soothing at once.
22. Billie Eilish – ‘Happier Than Ever’
While stepping up her game personally, visually and musically on her second full-length the strengths of Billie Eilish’s songwriting are still sensible and quite mesmerizing, especially when they manage to surprise the listener like the monstrous guitar finale on the record’s climaxing title-track.
21. Olivia Rodrigo – ‘Drivers License’
You can right mighty and authentic power pop ballads with a cinematic approach and lots of dignity and still score an international hit these days. Olivia Rodrigo just got nominated for multiple Grammys and this might just be the start of a blossoming career.
20. Kathleen Frances – ‘Grown’
With her warm and soothening baritone English songwriter Kathleen Frances got just that sort of voice that comforts and guides you when the whole world around you slips into chaos. And this song perfectly captures her talent and is one of 2021’s most beautiful hidden treasures.
19. KUOKO – ‘Yellow Fever Gaze’
“I’m not exotic, I am just tired”, the Hamburg-based artist sings. With lines performed in punchy, almost spoken word manner over bright electronic arrangements, KUOKO creates an irresistibly danceable track with an important message: Stop Fetishizing Patriarchal Gazes!
18. Moyka – ‘Illusion’
Nobody turned romantic tragedy better into disco euphoria this year than the Norwegian shooting star and this is still the mighty anthem for all the heartbroken folks out there.
17. Sleaford Mods – ‘Nudge It (feat. Amy Taylor)’
Barely any band put the overall frustration of the current political climate during the pandemic in better words than these lads once again – and when they got the charismatic leading lady of Amyl And The Sniffers to join them you can be sure that they will deliver the perfect outlet for the all those furious and confusing feelings inside you.
16. Desperate Journalist – ‘Fault’
After half a decade of constantly delivering standout releases, the British post-punkers step up the game and get one step closer to their overdue breakout by delivering another forceful anthem that also comes with a mesmerizing gut-wrenching bassline.
15. Lizzo – ‘Rumors (feat. Cardi B)”
The rumours are true: Lizzo is still here, she isn’t slowing down anytime soon and haters should already be afraid of her next album because if that funky teaser is just a first glimpse than we’re all in for a treat, right?
14. Lorde – ‘Solar Power’
While her turn towards neo-hippie territory might have been a bit dull over the course of the entire album the title-track of Lorde’s third full-length doesn’t disappoint at all and gave us a much needed sun-drenched release following the long and hard Covid winter. Hopefully we can all join dance again united next summer.
13. Villagers – ‘The First Day’
Conor J. O’Brien remains a constant of quality in our very own NBHAP context and it’s a joy to still get surprised by him and his music. Driven by a warm harmony and tender psychedelic moments the lead single of the latest Villagers album is a much needed statement of solace and a thoughtful anthem for a new beginning we all crave from time to time.
12. Noga Erez – ‘End Of The Road’
Nothing about this life is as predicted, so why are we so afraid of it? As we the future became unpredictable throughout the pandemic, the Israeli pop sensation found the right words and sound to face the uncertainty with a big, fat smile and lots of power.
11. Arlo Parks – ‘Hope’
Carried by a simple yet present bassline and funk-tinged guitar strums the UK’s brightest soul pop songwriter delivers a warm and hopeful antidote against the world’s despair and we couldn’t have hoped for a better timing for this song to arrive.
10. Wye Oak – ‘Its Way With Me’
Accept the chaos, embrace the unknown and let nature have its way with you – the message of this meditative new Wye Oak single might be timeless but had an even more important affect on us when it arrived in the summer of 2021 after we just learned that some things are out our hand anyway. After ten years in the industry Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack are still capable of creating truly mesmerizing moments of bliss.
09. Odd Beholder – ‘Disaster Movies’
How do you live with and throughout the impending end of the world? The floating piece of dreamy synthpop tells the story of two protagonists who recall that movie fascination from their teenage days (when you sometimes want your home town to simply burn down) only to realize that there’s nothing glamourous about witnessing an actual catastrophe. The Swiss artist delivers a gentle call to turn things around.
08. MUNA – ‘Silk Chiffon (feat. Phoebe Bridgers)’
The early 00s college pop rock comeback is in full swing and thanks to such delightful contributions like this gem from MUNA we are all in for it. And of course, if Sad Factory label boss Phoebe Bridgers jumps on board things get even more intense. Maybe 20 years ago this queer power pop anthem would have become a massive hit, maybe not – but right here and right now this is the anthem we’ve been waiting for.
07. Squid – ‘Narrator’
Narrator might start like a sparse and partly funky piece of old-fashioned indie rock that channels the sound of the mid-00s wave but then over the course of it’s over eight-minute long duration the song turns into something entirely different – a monster, larger than itself. Towards the end Martha Skye Murphy adds a raw and more emotional note to the track, resulting in a hypnotizing, intense and disturbing finale. What a beast!
06. Holly Humberstone – ‘Haunted House’
Stripping a song back to its bare bones is often the best way to reveal the beauty hidden underneath, especially when paired with a voice as remarkable as the one of Holly. Sticking to that formula on her single the British shootingstar keeps things simple and once again lets her vocals take centre stage. Definitely a show stopping track.
05. Sharon Van Etten & Angel Olsen ‘Like I Used To’
The indie goddess duet that somehow was always supposed to happen but never came true finally manifested this year after one finally had the courage to call the other and both confirmed the mutual love and respect for each others music. Of course, the result could only be a a massive anthem, an almost old-fashioned clash of two unique forces of songwriting that should actually result in an entire record if you ask us.
04. Wolf Alice – ‘Delicious Things’
2021 couldn’t have been further away from fame and glamour and maybe Rowsell’s reflection of the Hollywood lifestyle had an prophetic touch when it was released. Tempted by the seductive natures of this lifestyle it finds the Wolf Alice leading lady questioning her choices on men, drugs and her life only to realize at the end that it’s not worth it. It’s an outstanding vocal performance by Rowsell while the rest of the Wolf Alice gang built a monumental shoegaze-infected epic around it. The studio version is already brilliant but that freshly released live recording with orchestra and choir takes it on another level.
03. Little Simz – ‘Introvert’
Everything about the opening of Little Simz’ mesmerizing new album feels on point and well thought: the song itself is a mighty rollercoaster ride of emotions: frustration, anger, racism confidence and disturbing truths about an eroding English society are present in every rapped bar while the grooving beat and the mighty orchestration pushes the whole track forward while it changes the direction multiple times. In combination with the music video by Salomon Lightelm the artist created a true masterpiece, a call to arms and one of the year’s most breathtaking releases.
02. CHVRCHES – ‘How Not To Drown (feat. Robert Smith)’
Having an icon perform on one of your songs might be a surreal experience and in the case of CHVRCHES we can only imagine how the Scottish synthpop trio might have felt when legendary The Cure leader Robert Smith decided to join them on this song. Even without the goth music god the song would have been a success due to the emotional heaviness singer Lauren Mayberry transports in it. But of course, Mr. Smith only underlines the substance of the track (and also created a gloomy remix that’s even closer to the sound of his band). Finally breaking free from their recent attempts towards more mainstream-focussed pop CHVRCHES return to a place where they work best at: an honest and gifted emo pop band that just happens to work with synthesizers.
01. Japanese Breakfast – ”Be Sweet’
“After spending the last five years writing about grief, I wanted our follow up to be about joy” said Michelle Zauner about her new album Jubilee and that’s one reason why Be Sweet had to be on it. Written with Wild Nothing mastermind Jack Tatum a few years back she finally found a fitting record to share it with the world because where else do you put such an irresistibly catchy piece of funky 80s pop. Every second of Be Sweet screams “Hit!” and its undeniable pop sensibility finally placed Japanese Breakfast in the leading lines of the international indie music scene. While the album shows many facets of her profound songwriting it’s also very charming to witness that she’s also capable of crafting a partly cheesy piece of pop with the same amount of love and dignity as she does with her more emotional piece. Thank you for putting a smile on our face during these troubled months, Michelle. It’s indeed quite sweet of you.
Of course, this list can’t contain all the best songs of 2021 so we put a few extra ones that didn’t make it into the Top 50 and compiled them all to one big Spotify playlist to recap the past months. Find it right here.