Best Songs of 2021 That Were Not Released in 2021 (Part 1)

by Sam Rees

In the height of the terror-filled extravaganza known as 2020, I had the bright idea to make a top-ten list of songs I had been listening to that year, that had in one way or other provided me with a certain amount of solace and/or comfort during those dreadful months. The only proviso being that they had to be songs that weren’t released in 2020. This wasn’t some snide, sideways dig at the lack of great music that came out that year, but a comment on the odd way that art works in a crisis-things from entirely different times interpolate themselves into the present, imbuing themselves with new meaning and new resonance.  

So here we go again, Part One of my top songs of 2021 not released in 2021: 

A Little Solidarity Goes a Long Way-And So I Watch You from Afar 

This is a great track. ASIWYFA are a math rock band from Ireland, who have released a solid catalogue of proggy instrumentals which always carry an oddly poppy edge. This particular song from their debut is a brilliant intro to the band. It blossoms from the nerdy noodling of its opening refrain into something really quite expansive, bursting into life with a crescendo which defies all received wisdom about math rock-it’s not overly intellectual or pretentious, it’s colourful, heartfelt and never fails to lift the spirits. In a year in which a return to normalcy felt like a massive ask, this slam-dunk of a song captured well the ecstasy and chaos of re-emergence.  

Short Movie-Laura Marling 

I, like a lot of people, did my share of soul-searching this year, reflecting in that solipsistic way on the direction of my life and my personal relationships. As such, it was entirely appropriate that this was the year I reacquainted myself with the singular genius of Laura Marling. Short Movie is a great snapshot of an artist; caustic, world-beaten but gently self-mocking. It opens with a typically self-flagellating line from Marling, ‘I am paying for my own mistakes’ but a sense of mature resignment swiftly comes into counterweight this-’that’s okay’. The song’s central lyrical refrain, ‘it’s a short fucking movie, man’ is a shrug to all those who angst over their lives too much, forgetting that those end credits will be rolling faster than they think.  

Mood Indigo-Frank Sinatra 

A Duke Ellington-penned classic, Sinatra’s take on Mood Indigo is a stylish and pained meditation on the depression evoked by romantic heartbreak. I haven’t suffered such things myself this year, but so persuasive is Sinatra’s delivery and the gorgeous arrangement bedded underneath his voice, that the resonance is unavoidable. Sinatra’s phrasing on In the Wee Small Hours is direct, simple and humane, and finds its pinnacle in this number, a stripped-back lament on solitude and abandonment. Everybody has felt like ‘there’s nobody who cares about me, I’m just a soul who’s bluer than blue can be’, but nobody made it sound as convincing as Frank. 

Close to Me-The Cure 

What can be said about this New Wave classic? Its canonical status is undeniable, but this year it really took flight for me. I read it as a joyous, frenetic and nervy tribute to the anxiety of waiting for something to come. There’s an aimlessness to the lyrics, juxtaposed by the killer hook, a punchy cluster of synths and drum machines. As we emerged from lockdown and I, like so many others, was suddenly expected to function as a normal human being instantly, the conflict between having ‘waited for hours for this’ and making ‘myself so sick’ in the process made it feel as if Robert Smith was singing in solidarity with me. Plus, it’s an absolute bop. 

Coney Island-Taylor Swift & The National 

This song just makes it, its parent album Evermore having been released December 2020, god I’m cheeky, aren’t I? I’ve always been a fan of The National, but listened with interest to Swift’s new output as it cleaned up critically and commercially. This song hit HARD. Hard in the way a light-as-air feather hits hard when it gets trapped in a jet engine. It’s a delicate, melancholic ballad which is in many ways unassuming but unfolds its story of heartbreak in New York and potential death (?) with a devastatingly subtle poise. The pairing of Swift’s clean, youthful vocals with the gravelly, whiskey-soaked Matt Berninger’s is a genius touch. A song for misty nights and doubtful thoughts, this song will keep you company when your melon gets a little twisted.