Our Favorite Songs Of 2021

2021 is 2020’s hangover, a throbbing, persistent reminder of the horrors we still haven’t quite left behind. But it was definitely an improvement. Shows and tours started up again, and embraced by the magic of live music, we began to feel, at least on most days, (almost, kind of) back in business. Even the darkest days of the pandemic did little to slow the creative spirit. Like in 2020, a lot of great music was recorded and released this year. We’re music nerds here at KUTX. We’re not normal. Music takes up a huge, outsized chunk of our lives. Asking the over-absorbed staff to pick their favorite three songs of the year was an impossible task. I know this because they told me so. Repeatedly. Little things helped. Changing ‘best’ to ‘favorite’, gentle assurances their picks would not haunt them for the rest of their lives. If asked on another day, most of us might choose three completely different tracks. And that’s OK, it’s just an exercise. But I can assure you that every song on this list is a real standout, oh-so-carefully considered for inclusion. And by the way, these lists were submitted individually, so the consensus (hello, BLK Odyssy) came naturally. So listen, enjoy, discover and dig deep. There’s more where these came from. – Jeff McCord

Art Levy – producer

Ty Segall – “Whisper”

This song is fun, fuzzy, and frightening. It lurches like Frankenstein’s monster, glued together with synth-like guitars, guitar-like synths, and a heavy rhythm section.

Hovvdy – “True Love”

Plainspoken joy from this Austin band. I love the way the duo turned its lo-fi folk sound into something so colorful and comforting.

Shannon Lay – “Rare To Wake”

It’s rare to recognize the need for change, rarer still to actually go through with what’s needed. This song is about that hazy, in-limbo emotional space. The orchestral folk arrangement gives life to these deep desires.

Confucius Jones – host

Silk Sonic – “After Last Night”

The combination of Bruno Mars and Anderson.Paak was a match made in musical heaven and this song is the crown jewel of their album. Featuring narration by Bootsie Collins, the song is perfect for an evening of wine and good company.

Young Dolph – “Coordinate”

A song that boasts about your child’s expensive taste due to your wealth is always a great vibe. Unfortunately, Dolph was tragically murdered this year, but songs like this help his legacy in hip-hop stay cemented.

BLK Odyssy – “Funkentology”

A part of the Austin Music Experience, Sam Houston was already a force to be reckoned with. Now with his band BLK Odyssy , they are not only one of the best new bands in the live music capital of the world but one of the best new bands in the world, period.

Deidre Gott, live music producer

Wet Leg – “Chaise Longue”

I love how the British say ‘Longue’. And there’s a bunch of great lines about going to school and getting “the big D” (thats a degree y’all), muffin buttering, and assigning someone to worry your mother. The band just announced their debut album due out in April 2022 and I can’t wait to see them at SXSW.

Molly Burch – “Emotion”

Taking it all the way back to the very beginning of 2021, the Molly Burch and Wild Nothing disco bop still makes me wanna dance.

Rajinee (Ft. Ol Black Stooge)- “Cat Call and Response”

The first time I got cat called I was maybe in 5th grade and I got a lecture as if it was my fault. Thanks to my work wife (APD Jacquie Fuller) for bringing in this song from UT alum Rajinee Buquing.

Elizabeth McQueen – producer, host 

Tameca Jones – “Gimme That”

Tameca Jones has a way of writing the perfect song for getting it on. Just when I think “Good Boy” can’t be topped, she releases “Are You Awake”. I think THAT’S the perfect hook-up song and then she puts out “Gimme That”? I bow to her consistent ability to set the mood.

Golden Dawn Arkestra — “Phenomenal”

It’s hard to write songs about the trauma we’ve all experienced during the pandemic. It’s especially hard to write songs about the trauma that make you want to dance. But somehow this song does just that. It gives you the feel of what it’s been like for people to fall in love or lust while being separated by screens — but in a pulsing, joyful and synthy way. 

BLK Odyssy — “Funkentology” 

This was not the song I expected from BLK Odyssy . I had come to know the group when Sam Houston as BLK Odyssy were blending Rage Against the Machine covers with R&B and Funk. (which was its own kind of amazing) But this song is the song I needed. Every time I hear it my heart rate lowers, I breathe deeper, and I get into a groove I didn’t realize I was missing.

Fresh Knight – host

Jordan Rakei –  “Send My Love” 

An underrated song of the year, yet I feel it was one of the best alternative R&B/Pop records of the year. 

CAPYAC – “Sanctuary” 

CAPYAC’s smooth groove and psychedelic funk captured me once again on this great tune to vibe out to or get up and dance to.  

BLK Odyssy – “Funkentology” 

I have been singing the praises of BLK Odyssy since 2018, and this year with their album “BLK Vintage”, they showed everyone why I was so big on them. “Funkentology” channels Parliament/Funkadelic and Curtis Mayfield in the best way.

Jack Anderson – producer

Benny Sings + Tom Misch – “Nobody’s Fault”

Along with the rest of his LP Music, Amsterdam’s Tim van Berkestijn proves that yacht rock isn’t just a half-century-old relic. The caliber of collaborators is nothing to scoff at, and Tom Misch’s guitar work really rounds out the jazzier elements of yacht on this one.

Little Simz + Cleo Sol – “Woman”

I never thought Cleo Sol and Little Simz could ever one-up their GREY Area collaboration “Selfish”, but lo and behold, here they are again on an even higher plane. With moody choir sonics stemming from What’s Going On and keyboard work in the ilk of Death Proof-era Isaac Hayes, “Woman” channels ’70s progressive soul royalty albeit, true to the song’s title, with an inherently feminine touch.

Sir Woman – “Blame It on the Water”

As singers get older, their voices tend to drop, and Kelsey Wilson is no exception. And although her soprano range made for some great arrangements in Wild Child, Wilson seems a bit more comfortable and confident within the contralto register that defines Sir Woman’s singing style. I adore Kelsey’s newfound soul chops.

Jacquie Fuller – assistant program director

Blood Cultures – “Set It On Fire”

A hypnotic track that layers All the Things: vocals, guitar, synths, serpentine bass, and bells (BELLS!) with just enough lyrical/melodic repetition to send you floating down a river of sonic bliss. So, basically, tubing the Guadalupe … with your ears (and minus all the drunk bros.)

The Los Sundowns – “Se Cae El Sol”

Probably the track I hoisted most upon friends in 2021. This song is – as the kids say – a mood. And when it’s playing, your life feels like a movie – the kind of movie where you unwittingly get mixed up with some real bad dudes.

Rajinee – “Catcall and Response”

This bouncy number from UT alum Rajinee is a public service announcement with swagger. It’s not here for any of your nonsense.

Jake Perlman – engineer

BLK Odyssy – “Funkentology” 

My favorite song from this remarkable record (BLK Vintage). I look forward to the day when this is pressed & available on wax.

White Denim – “Crystal Bullets” 

I’m a sucker for the Purdie shuffle, especially with nutso accents. Smooth & freaky sailing from outer space.

Magna Carda – “Spark the Day”

Great groove & loop. Super clever, layered production throughout the whole new record (“To The Good People”). I’m always excited when they put new stuff out.

Jay Trachtenberg, host

Twin Shadow – “Johnny & Jonnie”

This is the song that stayed with me throughout the year. Maybe it was the fidgety, pan-Caribbean undertow that was so irresistible to my ears…..and feet.

Cimafunk – “Rompelo” (feat. Lupe Fiasco)

Dubbed “the Cuban James Brown,” this medical student turned funkateer, digs a party groove that just doesn’t quit. Chicago rapper Lupe Fiasco adds some sparkle and fun to the cross-cultural mix.

Tee Double – “Go Off”

My ears perked up the moment I heard the flow of this long-time Austin rapper/producer/entrepreneur Terrany Johnson aka Tee Double. The subject of a fascinating cover story in the Austin Chronicle back in February, it’s not surprising his beats aren’t too shabby either.

Jeff McCord – music editor, host

Little Simz – “Point and Kill” (featuring Obongjayar)

At first, after the minimalist thrills of last year’s “Drop 6” EP, the brassy Bond-theme production of Sometimes I Might Be Introvert felt like a backpedal. Gradually, the album came into focus, and this standout, buried deep in the album, showcases her genius. Fluid, global, unrelenting and unforgettable. 

Low – “Disappearing”

The best art pokes the boundaries of comfort zones, and throughout their brilliant career, this Minnesota duo has swerved from the commonplace. Their new album, Hey What, is a career pinnacle. Far from gimmickry, the bulbous swells and other forms of digital sabotage that accompany their gorgeous melodies are so integrated as to be inseparable from the compositions themselves. “Disappearing” is about just that, staring at a vanishing ocean horizon that brings “cold comfort to my soul”. 

BLK Odyssy – “Hang Low”

A pivot for Sam Houston and his band, diving deep into the D’Angelo/Badu/Ocean/Gaye slow groove funk territory while rising well above imitation. BLK Vintage is a triumph, an album that doesn’t shy from tragedies, both personal and universal, and the lack of lessons learned. But it’s this all-too-short subconscious drill that won’t leave me alone. 

Jody Denberg – host

Magna Carda – “Spark The Day”

This jazzy Austin hip-hop outfit formed 10 years ago at St. Edward’s University, featuring keyboardist/producer Dougie Do and rapper Megz Kelli. They fully came into their own this year with “To The Good People” and this track is the album’s highlight, capable of being spun next to any of their peers locally or internationally.

Alejandro Escovedo – “Bandido Para Ti”

A recent Austin City Limits Hall Of Fame inductee, Escovedo’s “La Cruzada” finds him revisiting his 2018 release “The Crossing” en espanol, with the lead vocals done by Alex Ruiz of Del Castillo. Alejandro’s first entry into Billboard’s Latin Pop Albums chart is highlighted by “Outlaw For You” – a hefty slab of Tex-Mex rock replete with shout-outs to the likes of Johnny Thunders and Allen Ginsberg.

The War On Drugs – “I Don’t Live Here Anymore”

The 5th album from Philly’s The War On Drugs features this pitch right down the middle of the classic-rock homeplate, including Bob Dylan references and complementing vocals by Lucius.  Adam Granduciel & Co. opened their world tour in Austin with two nights at ACL Live in January. It was great talking with Granduciel via Zoom for KUTX At Home and he and the band were kind enough to give us a video of two live performances to share.

Laurie Gallardo, host

Jack White – “Taking Me Back (Gently)”

This will hardly surprise you, and I say this as a Jack White fan, but…there’s a twist. “Taking Me Back” was released in two versions, electric and acoustic, while I do love the signature shreds on the original version, my pick is the acoustic rendition of that very song. It features Pokey LaFarge on rhythm guitar, and Fats Kaplin killing it on that fiddle. Damn, son.

Navy – “One Shot”

It could very well be that simple opening beat that draws you in – and keeps you going. But Dominican artist Navy also shines with an inner strength of a badass that will not waste time on trifling fools. It’s not for nothing that Navy’s known as the High Priestess of Caribbean hip-hop soul. This is an awesome fusion of reggae, soul and hip-hop grooves. One shot is all you got, buddy. 

Tee Double – “Go Off”

This is it. The veteran, the real deal, the OG, the ATX Ambassador who was spreading the good hip-hop word long before much of Austin was even aware of its own hip-hop story. Tee Double (nee Terrany Johonson) has been eyeball-deep in the hustle as a hip-hop/rap artist, producer, songwriter, and radio host in his hometown since the mid-90’s. “Go Off” is a reflection of that long and winding journey, and, with Johnson the founder of the Urban Artist Alliance, more from this story is yet to come. Shine.

Matt Reilly – program director

Hovvdy – “True Love”

This didn’t grab me at first listen, though each subsequent one pulled me in deeper.. There’s a definite swirling ear worm quality to this song that makes it stick with you.

Darkbird – “Heartbeat”

I love the energy from this Austin band. It’s rock, but danceable. It’s youthful, but not too young for my jaded Gen X ass.

Orquestra Akokan – “Mi Conga Es De Akokan”

When I listen to this I feel sophisticated and worldly. Which is nice. The mambo from this Cuban outfit sounds like something that would have been made when American mobsters roamed Havana. Amazing musicianship and like nothing else I heard all year. 

Rick McNulty – music director, host

BLK Odyssy – “Funkentology”

Austin’s Sam Houston surprised everyone with this deep D’Angelo/P-Funk jam from his “BLK Vintage” project. Turns out it’s the tip of the iceberg, as the album is full of dark grooves and meditations. This sound has been missing in Austin since… forever.

Cimafunk – “Rompelo”

The ultimate banger of the year. I don’t understand a word of it (except when Lupe Fiasco steps in), but I can speak party in every language. Cimafunk (Erik Rodriguez to his mama) distills the most joyous Afro-Cuban funk I’ve ever heard. The album is an all-night celebration in Little Havana.

Wet Leg – “Chaise Longue”

By far the most left-field debut this year comes from Wet Leg, a female duo from the Isle of Wight. “Chaise Longue” is so preposterously goofy and one-note, it almost feels like a novelty song. You’re never quite sure what you’ve just heard, but you know you’re hooked. I’ve listened to this a million times and I’m still not sick of it.

Ryan Wen, host

BLK Odyssy – “Hang Low”

More proof that Austin’s sound cannot be put in a box, maaaan. But seriously, what is this? D’Angelo on DMT? Flying Lotus and Funkadelic’s beautiful mutant child? A sci-fi sonic triptych featuring all three? Yes. 

Eimarol Sol – “Taste”

Best beat of 2021, Austin or otherwise. 

Flock of Dimes – “Price of Blue” (Album Version)

This one didn’t do it for me until I heard the opening lick on the full album version. A guitar hasn’t been this sad since the first fifteen seconds of Land of Talk’s “It’s Okay” and I’ve been recovering from that riff since 2008.

Soundfounder, host

Flying Lotus – “Crust”

The 2021 Grammy-winning duo of Flying Lotus and Thundercat teamed up this year to record the soundtrack for an Anime series called “Yasuke”.  The score works great as a standalone album and “Crust” is yet another shining example of how great these two artists work together.  

Ross From Friends – “Revellers”

Don’t be fooled by his humorous stage name, Felix Weatherall (AKA Ross from Friends) is a master craftsman of electronic music production. His album “Tread” is littered with highlights, and “Revellers” stands out as a moody, ever-changing soundscape of pedal steel guitar samples and synth work over expertly programmed House beats. 

Boombaptist – “Komfort Food”

Austin beat producer Boombaptist reinforces his reputation as one of the city’s best with this track. High-quality drum programming, moody keyboards and chopped-up rap samples drive the song forward for a very entertaining experience.

Susan Castle, host

Sharon Van Etten and Angel Olsen –  “Like I Used To” 

Reflecting never felt so confusing. Shall I tear up or tear it up? The grand chorus at the song’s end points to the latter. 

Dry Cleaning – “Strong Feelings” 

I have strong feelings for the hypnotic vibe of this song and Florence Shaw’s compelling speak-singing. From the London quartet’s debut “New Long Leg”.

Van Mary – “Hug” 

Austin band’s mundane but amusing quarantine reflections resonated big time for me during this pandemic and provided guaranteed happiness for 4:30 every time I heard it or played it. “Ate a whole pie in my bed”? Check. “I wanna hug all my friends”? Every dang day.

Taylor Wallace-Riegel, host

Altin Gün – “Yuce Dag Basinda”

Based in Amsterdam, yielding members from Indonesia, Turkey and the Netherlands, this psych band fuses regional folk with the upbeat dance and psychedelic sounds of today. In this siren tune, the singer pines for her lover, yearning to see him in the morning while she miserably lies next to her husband.

Dry Cleaning –  “Strong Feelings” 

Give me some good post-punk any day, and the hypnotic, deep monotone of Florence Shaw’s vocals makes this new group from South London especially striking. I think I physically felt my ears perk up the first time I heard her.

Tkay Maidza – “Syrup” 

Smooth, thick, and sweet are three perfect words to describe this wallop of a banger that clocks in under two and a half minutes. By letting the silence weigh as heavy as the drops, Maidza seems to be channeling a bit of Sneaks in this slice of grime.

Support KUTX’s ability to bring you closer to the music.

Donate Today