We’ve been consuming music in a vacuum for over a year now. There hasn’t been the chance to hear a new song at a bar, at a friend’s party, or at a club. Instead, we consume what we can find via the Internet. What we hear is recorded—or at the very least performed via livestream. It’s different. The great stuff has been able to unite us, physical distance between us be damned. Music has felt essential throughout the last 13 months. It’s offered us a short escape, or a way to make sense of our anxieties. In the best instances, an excuse to stand up and push aside the furniture and just move. And perhaps in a year or in a few months, we’ll hear some of these songs and be instantly transported to this time and this place, for better or worse. What we do know, is that, for right now, these are the songs getting us through whatever stage of These Times we find ourselves in. Whether it’s the escape of Silk Sonic or confronting the looming crisis of climate change with The Weather Station, this is the music we love most, right now. With new voices like Olivia Rodrigo and new subgenres from South Africa or bold statements from Lil Nas X, these are the best songs of 2021 so far.
‘“My god,’ I thought / ‘My god, what a sunset’ / Blood red floods the Atlantic,” Tamara Lindeman sings in the opening lines of “Atlantic.” There’s a steady tide of drums. A storm of trilling synths swirls in the background while Lindeman tries to reckon with the beauty of nature and the looming doom of the climate crisis. “I was thinking about the weight of the climate crisis—like, how can you look out the window and love the world when you know that it is so threatened, and how that threat and that grief gets in the way of loving the world and being able to engage with it,” she told Apple Music of the song. It’s a song that attempts to come to terms with the great catastrophe of our generation. And when a song is this gorgeous we can’t help but listen. —Matt Miller
FKA twigs is here to finish what she started. In 2019, the avant garde pop star lent her vocals to a short interlude on a mixtape from rapper Headie One and producer Fred again…—the entire collection, called GANG, is worth a spin—that serves as the first iteration of this 2021 release. The two years of tinkering were worth it, the final version is completely exhilarating, from her blown glass vocals to the UK drill star’s hypnotic, urgent flow. —Madison Vain