The 50 best songs from the world of indie and alternative.
Following on from our best albums of 2021 list, we've taken a deep dive into the best songs of the year.
Who will top the chart? Will it be one of the excellent songs by new artists like The Lathums or The Snuts? Or will a more established artist like Wolf Alice or Sam Fender take home the acclaim? Lets find out!
We've even put together a playlist of the top 50 songs of the year for your listening pleasure.
50. Voodoos - It's Your Life
Glaswegian garage-rock band Voodoos gave us an energetic banger in February with 'It's Your Life'. Catchy as anything and a lot of fun.
49. Amyl and the Sniffers - Hertz
Another pulsating, punk banger from Australian band Amyl and the Sniffers who expertly produce punchy and anthemic rock tunes.
48. The Black Keys - Crawling Kingsnake
The opening track and a clear highlight from the Ohio duo's Mississippi blues covers album Delta Kream.
47. Arlo Parks - Black Dog
'Black Dog' is a beautiful take on isolation and depression written by Arlo Parks for her best friend. The South London singer attempts to understand what she's going through and does so with so much compassion.
46. Arab Strap - Sleeper
The penultimate track on Scottish indie cult hero's first album in 16 years is a mysterious and eerie tale of a man's train journey to an early grave. Classic Arab Strap bleakness.
45. The Vaccines - Back In Love City
The title track to The Vaccines' fifth album revealed their enduring accessibility. Indie pop at its best from a band who can't stop producing bangers a decade into their career.
44. Apollo Junction - Sometimes
Leeds band Apollo Junction's All In is full of soaring guitars, big drums and hooks. 'Sometimes' is energetic and anthemic, a highlight on their excellent second album.
43. Damon Albarn - The Nearer The Fountain, More Pure The Stream Flows
An absolutely stunning title track opener to Damon Albarn's The Nearer The Fountain, More Pure The Stream Flows. Sadness personified so eloquently.
42. The Coral - My Best Friend
The most poppy track on Coral Island is the kind of track The Coral do best. It's upbeat and yet the lyrics paint the picture of a broken man in a toxic relationship.
41. IDLES - When the Lights Come On
The third track on IDLES' more introspective fourth album CRAWLER is darker in sound, fitting the late-night confessions of frontman Joe Talbot. Refreshing from a band who'd become cliched.
40. The Snuts - Don't Forget It (Punk)
The punchiest and punky of tracks on The Snuts W.L., 'Don't Forget It (Punk)' gave us some raw energy and much-welcomed aggro three-quarters into their debut.
39. Sam Fender - Getting Started
The second track on Seventeen Going Under continued the autobiographical theme of Sam Fender's tough upbringing. It's the tale of a young man trying to make sense of the life around him.
38. The Lathums - Oh My Love
Innocent, nostalgic and romantic, The Lathums' 'Oh My Love' is one of the highlights on the Wigan band's debut album How Beautiful Life Can Be.
37. Shame - Station Wagon
Get this one turned up loud. The closer to Shame's second album Drunk Tank Pink is 6 and a half minutes of darkness and claustrophobia. Utterly captivating.
36. The Shop Window - Out of Reach
The highlight from The Shop Window's debut album The State of Being Human. 'Out Of Reach' is 90s inspired, jangly and nostalgic. A band we couldn't get enough of this year.
35. Afflecks Palace - The City Is Burning Alive
Baggy, poppy and psychedelic, 'The City Is Burning Alive' has a distinctive Madchester feel to it, a sound produced expertly from this Manchester band.
34. Django Django - Spirals
The opener to Django Django's fourth album introduced Glowing in the Dark perfectly. An experimental, indie-dance banger from the Scottish art-rockers.
33. The Vaccines - El Paso
On their excellent fifth album Back In Love City, midway track 'El Paso' proved a dreamy, Americana delight exploring the concept of alienation. Despite being subtler than the singles, it left a more lasting impact.
32. Wolf Alice - The Last Man On Earth
In February, Wolf Alice returned after a four-year absence with 'The Last Man On Earth' and it was a track none of us saw coming. A stunning ballad that revealed a more mature sound from the London band.
31. Dry Cleaning - Scratchcard Lanyard
This dry-witted single introduced us to the unique sounds of London post-punk band Dry Cleaning. It drew us back in time and again. Florence Shaw really is one of a kind as a lyricist.
30. NewDad - Waves
Galway fourpiece NewDad bring "sombre themes to life with their easy-going sound, raw vocals and thrumming backing". In March, their EP Waves became an early year favourite, full of dream-pop and shoegazey songs, explosive and melancholic in equal measure. They definitely saved the best 'til last with the title track 'Waves'. It's a blissful five-minute experience from one of the year's most exciting young bands. So dreamy.
29. Maximo Park - All Of Me
Maximo Park delivered one of the surprise highlight's of 2021 with their seventh studio album Nature Always Wins. For a guitar-pop band from the mid-2000s to still be producing quality music a decade and a half later is worthy of applause in itself and one track in particular blew us away. 'All Of Me' is a synth-pop delight, echoing Mystery Jets 2016 hit 'Bubblegum'. A beautifully warm track from the North East indie veterans.
28. Dictator - Moonlight
West Lothian band Dictator produce a unique brand of electro-pop that can't help but raise the hairs. Earlier in the year, they released 'Moonlight' and we were blown away again. A simply stunning track, showcasing their signature sound that has drawn a lot of attention this year in the indie community. Soon after the track's release, they were championed by Scottish actor Robert Carlyle and later signed to Edinburgh's Blackhall Records. Big favourites of ours!
27. Alfie Templeman - Everybody's Gonna Love Somebody
Still only 18 years old, Bedfordshire singer Alfie Templeman has already established himself as one of the biggest upcoming stars over the past couple of years. Alfie produces a unique brand of pop, combining indie and r&b for an infectious sound both funky and colourful. 'Everybody's Gonna Love Somebody' was released in February and was another we couldn't get enough of.
26. SPINN, Christie Simpson - Billie
You have Spotify's Indie List to thank for this entry, a song played on repeat upon its release in March. 'Billie' by Liverpool-based four-piece SPINN and Yumi Zouma singer Christie Simpson features a delightful jangly riff and a deceivingly upbeat heartbreaking tale. A unique track that really stood out on a hunt for new music.
25. The War On Drugs - I Don't Wanna Wait
I Don't Live Here Anymore, the fourth album from The War On Drugs, continued the Philadelphia band's reputation as one of the best contemporary rock artists. Whilst there were heartland rock tunes aplenty, it was the most experimental song on the album which caught our attention. Fourth track ‘I Don’t Wanna Wait’ provides a nod to Phil Collins ‘In the Air Tonight’ before moving into a longing chorus and addictive hook. Along with the title track (spoiler alert: it may appear later on...), it was our favourite from one of 2021's best albums.
24. Quivers - You're Not Always On My Mind
Quivers make lyric-driven guitar pop, combining four unique male and female voices to create a distinctive indie-pop sound. Golden Doubt, the second album by the Melbourne jangle-pop band, certainly was a treat that I stumbled upon earlier in June. The highlight of the album is easily the stunningly romantic 'You're Not Always on My Mind'. The harmonies create a beautiful atmosphere to compliment the nostalgic melodies. You can't help but feel a little emotional every time you hear it.
23. Lana Del Rey - White Dress
'White Dress' is the opener to Lana Del Rey's first of two albums released in 2021, Chemtrails Over the Country Club. It's a gentle piano ballad with Lana nostalgic for a time when she was working as a waitress in Orlando, listening to jazz, Kings Of Leon, and "White Stripes when they were white-hot, listening to rock all day long". The whispery, croaked vocals really make the hairs rise and the song provides an impactful introduction to her more stripped back seventh album (and our favourite of hers to date).
22. Foals - Wake Me Up
In a world where bands become more introspective the older they get, it's definitely to Foals' credit that they're continuing to deliver guitar anthems 13 years after the release of their debut Antidotes. 'Wake Me Up' has funk running through its veins with a nod in the direction of Talking Heads. A four-minute celebration of simply doing something as revolutionary and futuristic as going out and having a good time.
21. Mogwai - Ritchie Sacramento
Only just missing out on my best albums of the year list (sorry lads...), it's worth noting that Glaswegian post-rock icons Mogwai achieved their first UK Official Albums Chart number 1 for their tenth album As The Love Continues. The highlight of the album was the hopeful and shoegazey 'Ritchie Sacramento'. It sounded perfect in these uncertain times. I mean, if one band was to soundtrack an international pandemic, there's only one artist you'd turn to, right?
20. Swim School - let me inside your head
Back in August, the Edinburgh rockers making sense of it all EP was described on this blog as "one of 2021's best"...and we haven't revised that opinion. It featured roaring rock anthems and plenty of punch, personified by opening track 'let me inside your head'. It's an ominous and explosive guitar anthem with dark undertones, proving exactly why the hype is necessary for swim school.
19. The Lathums - How Beautiful Life Can Be
'How Beautiful Life Can Be' was released as a single in July, whetting our appetites for the album of the same name. It's an uplifting song written during a period of lockdown reflection by frontman Alex Moore. It encourages listeners to appreciate the simple things in life, a hopeful and sweet tune to help us forget the horrors of the pandemic. We absolutely loved The Lathums' debut record, check out our 2021 best of album list to see where it ended up (clue: it did rather well...).
18. Sunstinger - Bonnie's Kaleidoscope
Fife shoegaze band Sunstinger, who quote Joy Division, DIIV and Slowdive amongst their influences, released their debut EP Beyond the Frame in July, quickly establishing themselves as a cult favourite within the indie community. Opener 'Bonnie's Kaleidoscope' builds and builds over distortion before exploding into life. It's heavy, spacey, intense and, most of all, majestic. It was difficult to get enough of this band after clicking play on their latest EP.
17. The Sherlocks - World I Underworld
Sheffield band The Sherlocks have always had a knack for producing soaring guitar anthems. In October, they released 'World I Understand' and it was another energetic indie-rock banger that had us hitting repeat time and time again. A belter of a tune from a band we're expecting big things from in 2022.
16. Arlo Parks - Caroline
Earlier in the year, London singer Arlo Parks released Collapsed in Sunbeams, a record I described at the time as a "near-perfect debut". 'Caroline' is a sweet and soulful tune inspired by Parks' observation of an argument between an "artsy" couple on Oxford Street. A highlight on her debut record which made her one of 2021's biggest breakthroughs.
15. Sam Fender - Spit Of You
'Spit Of You' was the final preview single released before second album Seventeen Going Under was unleashed on the world. Sam Fender revealed a more personal and hopeful song to the anger and anxiety that we'd later hear across the Geordie singer's brilliant new album. It addresses the similarities he feels with his old man and the pain he felt watching his dad say goodbye to his grandma. A beautiful song that will have you asking if someone is cutting onions close by...
14. The Institutes - I Just Can't Keep Myself From Loving You
The eighth track on the Coventry band's debut album is a tender love song that explores the conflicted emotions of a toxic relationship. The layers of guitars and big hooks make for an explosive and sentimental listen. With its shoegaze and 90s alternative rock influences, it was one of many highlights from The Institutes' delightful record Colosseums.
13. girl in red - Serotonin
Whilst the Norweigan indie singer's If I Could Make It Go Quiet was an underwhelming debut that ran out of steam, 'Serotonin' was one of the most refreshingly honest tunes of the year. 'Serotonin' unveils the seemingly irrational thoughts from the deepest and darkest parts of her mind and the fear these will be acted upon. Somehow we felt grateful that girl in red felt comfortable sharing these thoughts instead of bottling up her feelings.
12. The Killers - West Hills
The Killers released Pressure Machine back in August, a folk/Americana album inspired by Brandon Flower's Utah upbringing. Opener 'West Hills' is a delightful country-rock song of epic proportions. It describes the story of a man arrested for possession of "hillbilly heroin pills, enough to kill the horses that run free" before later seeking salvation. It's a grand tale, aided by strings, harmonicas and mandolins. An outstanding introduction to the new direction the Las Vegas band were trying to achieve.
11. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard - Catching Smoke
King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard's 18th studio album Butterfly 3000 recently featured high up in my best albums of 2021 list. Sixth track 'Catching Smoke' immediately sprung out as an early favourite, the most feel-good and dance-floor friendly on the album. It's an absolutely delightful bit of colourful psychedelic pop that'll have your head moving in no time.
10. The Rah's - The Time Is Now
The opener to the East Lothian band's debut When Does It Become Real? gets us off to a flyer. A spoken word motivational message begins the song before soaring guitars and explosive choruses take over. It was the sound of a band wanting us to sit up and take notice, getting the blood pumping in doing so. Perfect listening from The Rah's if you're looking for inspiration.
9. Inhaler - Totally
Dublin band Inhaler released their debut album It Won't Always Be Like This back in July and it was a confident indie-pop record inspired by the likes of U2 (Bono is frontman Eilijah Hewson's father), The Smiths and The Stone Roses. 'Totally' was an immediate favourite, deliciously poppy, groove-filled and heart-breaking. Sitting nine tracks in, it's a delicate pop song that definitely adds a certain freshness to the end of the record.
8. beabadoobee - Last Day On Earth
After the success of last year's debut Fake it Flowers, bedroom pop star Beatrice Laus returned over the summer, teaming up with The 1975 singer Matt Healy and drummer George Daniel for a new EP. Our Extended Play opens with 'Last Day On Earth', a sugary and infectious indie-pop tune that combined The 1975's winning formula with that of beabadoobee's teen rom-com style. Sweet and addictive.
7. IDLES - Progress
IDLES' fourth album CRAWLER happened to be their most reflective and inwardly focused yet. Coming to expect post-punk anthems with quirky lines that berated the elite whilst simultaneously challenging outdated prejudices, the Bristol band instead decided to change things up on their latest. 'Progress' is their most mature and experimental song to date. Joe Talbot is at his most focused, least playful and in full-on reflective mode. He battles his demons and confesses to a cycle of self-destruction. An outstanding moment on one of 2021's most surprising records.
6. The Snuts - Glasgow
Back in April, West Lothian band The Snuts delivered on the hype to produce a fantastic debut W.L. and it was one that gained them a number 1 in the UK Official Albums Chart. The highlight of the album is 'Glasgow', featuring a Celtic-rock riff and an explosive chorus that sent many a fan wild at their infamous live shows. The energy is of the track is unrivalled. Of course, I may be biased in the fact it's named after my home town...
5. Wolf Alice - How Do I Make It OK?
Wolf Alice's third studio album Blue Weekend was the most mature effort yet from this London alternative band who've established themselves as one of the biggest indie bands around. 'How Can I Make It Ok?' is a dreamy number full of anxiety and worry, sitting somewhere between Fleetwood Mac and Cocteau Twins in sound. It features a stunning performance from Ellie Rowsell and the looped "oh, oh, oh" vocals two-thirds just sound spine-tinglingly amazing.
4. Wet Leg - Chaise Longue
Possibly one of the most marmite songs on the list, 'Chaise Longue' is a super fun slice of indie rock that made a name of the Isle of Wight duo. With over 5 million streams on Spotify and frequent plays on 6Music and Radio 1, Wet Leg's first single became an unexpected hit, loved for its addictive hook and quirky lines which referenced 2004 film Mean Girls. It's one you couldn't get out of your head no matter how hard you tried.
3. Self Esteem - I Do This All The Time
'I Do This All The Time' by Rotherham indie-pop artist Self Esteem, became an instant favourite after gaining mainstream exposure on Greg James' Radio 1 Breakfast show. It was hard not to fall in love with Self Esteem's unique conversational style that explores feelings of anxiety, whilst also providing a message of self-acceptance. It felt important and relatable to so many young people.
2. Sam Fender - Seventeen Going Under
Sam Fender has received a lot of love on the blog this year, all beginning in July with the release of his excellent comeback single 'Seventeen Going Under'. It really felt like the Geordie singer had upped his game even further with an impassioned heartland rock song about his troubled upbringing. It touches on bottled up emotions, anger, anxiety and family illness, giving us an honest flavour into the past of one of the biggest contemporary British indie stars. A stunning chant-along song fit for arenas and mainstream radio play. The album of the same name, which was released in October, wasn't half bad either...
1. The War On Drugs - I Don't Live Here Anymore
Back in October, The War On Drugs continued their heartland rock brilliance with their fifth album I Don't Live Here Anymore, an album that finished fifth in my best albums of 2021. The highlight of the Philadelphia band's latest was easily the title track. Sitting six tracks in, it felt like the album’s centre point in more ways than one. That heartfelt, 80s groove will touch your soul and have you reaching for that repeat button so you can savour that feeling of desire and regret all over again. An instant and nostalgic number that blew us away on first listen...and continues to do!