Missed Hits 2021

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Missed Hits 2021

For many of the last 17 years, I have created an end of year comp that I call Missed Hits. The idea was to share music that hit me and that I expected many people had missed. Despite spending a lot of time discovering and writing about music in early 2021, I kind of expected this task to be more difficult since I slacked off so much over the second half of the year and spent more time listening to older records. Nonetheless, it turns out there was quite a bit of good stuff that I heard in 2021 and the real effort was in paring down the list. Below the list of songs are links to playlists in Spotify and Apple Music if you’re interested in hearing any or all of what I consider the missed hits of 2021.

Naked Raygun – “Living in the Good Times” (single): In the midst of a global pandemic and in the wake of the death of their longtime bassist, Pierre Kezdy, Naked Raygun released this dose of punk rock optimism bolstered by all the off-kilter, catchy urgency for which they have always been known.

Low – “Days Like These” (from Hey What) – Almost three decades into their existence, Low continues to make music that both engages and shocks.  I would even say they are making their best music at this point.  “Days Like These” manages to be both beautiful and jarring.

Beach House – “Runaway” (from Once Twice Melody) – Once Twice Melody is coming out monthly in four parts.  Part one was not as engaging as I’d hoped, but part two was much better and “Runaway” was a highlight.  This is not quite up to their recent albums, but it’s close and it not only stands a head above modern dream pop, it could hold its own with its predecessors.

Fiddlehead – “Grief Motif” and “The Years” from (Between the Richness) – To be fair, I may have only included this because I love e.e. cummings. These are decent emo-ish tracks that run together, but they are really elevated by the cummings reading that opens them (and the album as a whole).

Lil Haydn – “More Love” (from More Love) – When I first heard this, I immediately connected the similarity in the musical motif of “More Love” and (oddly enough) the Scorpions’ “Winds of Change.”  The Scorps song (all recent controversy about its CIA origins aside) was an okay song that somehow captured the optimism of its time.  Lili Haydn in a sense tries to capture a similar optimism in the midst of a pandemic, only this optimism is harder to see in our now restricted lives.  I wonder if, in time, I will return to this song and feel that sense of cooperation and empathy that bound us half together while other forces tore us apart.

The Catenary Wires – “Canterbury Lanes” (from Birling Gap) – The Catenary Wires formed when Amelia Fletcher and Rob Pursey moved from London out to the country.  The 60s pop-ish roots are still evident with a somewhat more pastoral feel and no urban urgency.  They have a haunting beauty reminiscent of Belle and Sebastian.

Bonbon Vodou – “De colere” (from Cimitiere Creole) – Bonbon Vodou translates to Voodoo Candy.  That seems apropos for a band that has a weird, foreign feel and sounds this sweet.  The album title translates to Creole Cemetery and it is Creole bones they are digging up and reassembling in their own unique way.

Sault – “Hard Life” (from Untitled (Black Is)) – This album came out in 2020, but I was late to the party.  I think it is safe to say that popular music at least feels a little less organic than it once did and there is a lot of conjecture about why.  One thing that strikes me about this track and its album is that, while still feeling current, Untitled (Black Is) doesn’t even feel cold or processed.  But most of all, I love the grounded optimism of this record.  As they sing here, “Everything is gonna be alright,” but that isn’t some blindly chipper view of the world, far from it.  It embraces the difficulties of making everything alright.

Mexican Institute of Sound – “My America Is Not Your America” (from Distrito Federal) – I was led to MIS via their 2007 release, Pinata, about a month ago.  It was one of those albums that I loved 30 seconds into the first track.  Distrito Federal took a little more time, but its ability to be Mexican without being incomprehensible to a middle class American and its ability to be both electronic and perhaps fundamentally folk walks a very compelling line.  It is a window and a bridge.

Dirty Streets – “Blinded” (single) – Yes, this is a 70s hard rock revival, but it has a great low end groove and sometimes we can still use a bit of riffy guitar.  Not everything needs to break new ground.

Olivia Kaplan – “Ghosts” (from Tonight Turns to Nothing) – “Ghosts” had me at the opening broken chords.  Olivia Kaplan’s breathy delivery kept me coming back.

Bedouine – “Sonnet 104” (from Waysides) – Armenian-Syrian-American Azniv Korkejian brings a rich cultural background to bear on Waysides, her third record as Bedouine.  Fundamentally, this is a folk record, but there is so much more to it.  It is busy without being overwhelming.

Annie Keating – “High Tide” (from Bristol County Tides) – Surely, the pandemic influenced a lot of music in 2021.  What’s really good about Keating’s odes to Covid is that they could apply anytime we feel disconnected and lost.  “Let’s ride for a while with music up loud and forget for an hour maybe three” doesn’t need a global health crisis that keeps us physically distanced to ring true.

Triptides – “Hand of Time” (from Alter Echoes) – I like a lot of records that throw back to the rumble coming out of the garages of the 1960s.  I liked it in the Paisley Underground of the 80s and I like it today.  For all of its simplicity, it never feels old.  Granted, Triptides have their hands pretty deep in that trippy cookie jar.

Handsome Jack – “High Class Man” (from Get Humble) – Some of Get Humble gets to be a little too Neil Young, but tracks like “High Class Man” are a little more of just a dirty 70s blues rock vibe that, like Dirty Streets above, still finds a place today even if it isn’t pushing any boundaries.

Madlib – “The Call” (from Sound Ancestors) – In January, I thought Sound Ancestors could be the best album of 2021.  If it isn’t, it is certainly in the mix.

Yung Bae – “Wonder” (single) – Apparently, I should have known Yung Bae before 2021.  He works in the vaporwave/future funk genres, but to me, this is just modern disco.  Contributions from Channel Tres certainly didn’t hurt.

Foushee – “2 L8” (from time machine) – I know Carole King wrote a lot of great pop songs with Gerry Goffin in her Brill Building days, but I always hated her as a solo artist.  Tapestry?  Should be Crapestry.  So, it is perhaps a bit strange that I found this Foushee song which borrows heavily from “It’s Too Late” to be compelling enough to include here.  Maybe it’s the performance that bothers me about King rather than the songs.  Maybe the hook is good and works better in this context.  Either way, I like it here.  For what it’s worth, she also does an interesting cover of Depeche Mode’s “Enjoy the Silence.”

Richard Dawson and Circle – “Pitcher” (from Henki) – Henki is a strangely dark record about plants.  The lyrics read like a field guide.  It’s a peculiar record and I don’t care for the underlying darkness even if I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I do appreciate how it is very subtly a heavy record as it dances around prog.

The Dictators – “Let’s Get the Band Back Together” (single) – This is another pandemic song and it was a dose of what everyone probably needed: fun.

Reiko Yamada and Tochigi-ken Symphony Orchestra – Ritmica Ostinata – Live recordings seldom feel live.  Some might suggest, though I would vehemently disagree in recent years,  that classical never feels live even in person.  This recording is as live as it gets, not because of bumps and bruises that pepper the best live rock records, but because of its intensity and urgency.  Ritmica Ostinata was composed by Akira Ifukube, under whom Reiko Yamada studied.  Ifukube is best known for his work on the soundtracks of the classic Godzilla movies.


Natalie Bergman – “Shine Your Light on Me” (from Mercy) – Religious pop music is often sorely lacking in one thing: actual religious fervor.  Similar to how love songs often fail to grapple with the realities, both the good and bad, of love, so too does religious pop fail to deal with the difficulties of a God-focused life.  Natalie Bergman, writing Mercy in the wake of her father’s sudden death and a spiritual retreat to deal with her loss, never falls into that trap.  This record is not full of the emptiness of “praise” music, but full of searching for self, for Love, for God.

Check out Missed Hits on Spotify or Apple Music.

About bobvinyl

bobvinyl, writer and co-editor of No Song is an Island, founded its predecessor, Rock and Roll and Meandering Nonsense (whose archives are found here), in 2005 and served as editor and principal contributor until it went on hiatus in 2010. He has also been published in AMP and Loud Fast Rules! (in print) as well as Glide and FensePost on the web. He has been an avid record collector since he was seven years old and enjoys sharing his love of music from the common to the esoteric.

7 thoughts on “Missed Hits 2021

  1. Chuck

    It’s cool that you’ve put these together more or less consistently over the years. I did one compilation one time, and while it ended up being one of my favorite mix tapes I’ve ever put together, the time and energy that went into it was daunting. I’m going to post my own abbreviated list here a bit later, but for now, here are my responses to yours.

    Naked Raygun – “Living in the Good Times”: When you originally posted your review of this song, we both mentioned the idea that our current social situation is way too focused on divisive retribution rather than collaborative revolution. I still like the sentiment more than the song itself but one thing I noticed this time around is that repeating guitar riff. I love it when there’s a little riff like that that stays consistent while the chords around it change. It’s a small thing that makes me like the song a lot more. I don’t know Naked Raygun at all but I also noticed the singer sounds older, like he’s in his 50s or 60s. Has he always sounded that way or has his voice matured like fine punk wine?

    Low – “Days Like These”: The way the lyrics become almost incomprehensible in the 2nd verse is powerfully striking, and their repeated use of the word “again” is a good reminder that the social conflict we’re facing now is not all that new. (Basically, what you said in your original review.) I need to spend more time with the instrumental section at the end because, although I generally like long songs with meandering outros, this feels more like aimless noodling than a meaningful conclusion.

    Beach House – “Runaway”: The eighth note melody that’s mixed to the left side (another example of a repetitive motif, like the one I mentioned in the Naked Raygun song) balances against the sixteenth notes in your right ear, and it’s so fluid yet so disjointed in a wonderful way. I think what ultimately kills Beach House for me though is Victoria LeGrand’s vocal delivery. In everything I’ve heard, her voice falls emotionally flat. I know they got compared to Mazzy Star over the years, but Hope Sandoval always felt emotional, even when she was at her quietest. LeGrand seems to pick up the flat affect that emerged with some new wave singers and then blew up with twee indie rock in the ‘90s and ‘00s. It’s a style I don’t care for, and it prevents me from loving this song as much as I think I could.

    Fiddlehead – “Grief Motif” and “The Years”: I’m glad you mentioned the e.e. cummings reference because I missed it. There are worse reasons to include a song on a best-of list, but nothing else about these songs stands out for me.

    Lili Haydn – “More Love”: This is one of those anthemic songs that seems destined to pull together a critical scene in a huge movie and then be beaten to death by performers on The Voice. Those are good problems for a song to have. Good choice including it.

    The Catenary Wires – “Canterbury Lanes”: Objectively it’s a lovely song, but it conjures visions of little people stumbling over a styrofoam Stonehenge replica. Not my cup of tea.

    Bonbon Vodou – “De colere”: I don’t know if this is a legit comparison, but the first thing I thought of when I heard this was Paul Simon’s “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes.” Knowing your love for Graceland, I wonder if there is some compositional thread between the two songs that you subconsciously picked up on.

    Sault – “Hard Life”: This reminds me of old Black gospel songs that celebrate how suffering in this life will lead to joy in Heaven. It’s amazing to me how they captured that spirit without simply mimicking the sound of classic gospel. The only knock I can make against this song is the title makes me think of Jay-Z’s “Hard Knock Life,” a song I’d be completely happy to never think about again.

    Mexican Institute of Sound – “My America Is Not Your America”: I love the way the entire song repeats the same 16-bar theme and gradually adds and removes elements until the whole thing devolves in chaos. This song makes me realize that most political critiques I hear about the US come from within the US, so this provides an unusual perspective for me. Our discovery of MIS was definitely the highlight when we went crate digging that morning!

    Dirty Streets – “Blinded”: Your comment (“Not everything needs to break new ground.”) and inclusion of this song reminds me of something I read decades ago by some pretentious ass who was explaining that he refused to read good books when there are great books in the world. His comment annoyed me at the time, and it still annoys me. However, in this case, I see where he’s coming from. I listen to Dirty Streets and it sounds like a Whitesnake revival, which of course is nothing more than a Led Zeppelin knockoff. And while you’re right that this song undeniably grooves, all it really does is make me sad that I’m not listening to Zeppelin.

    Olivia Kaplan – “Ghosts”: Kaplan’s voice has what I wish I heard from Victoria LeGrand and others like her. Her voice is expressive and capable of conveying different (and sometimes conflicting) emotions, unlike the flat affect that defines so much female-fronted indie rock. While Kaplan doesn’t grab me like Tanya Donnelly or Jenny Lewis do, she sings in that same world.

    I’m skipping over Bedouine, Annie Keating, Triptides, and Handsome Jack. None of them grabbed me, though I’m glad I heard Bedouine and Keating. (Can’t say the same for Triptides and Handsome Jack.) I think there’s an argument here for the constraints that come from physical formats: 80-ish minutes on a CD, or two 30 or 45 minute sides on a cassette. For me, these would be the first to go if there were time constraints, but I’m curious what you would cut.

    Madlib – “The Call”: This is sitting in my pile of stuff I’ve bought but haven’t listened to yet. From everything I’ve read, this seems like an important album to include. It’s a weird song and I’m not sure it stands up out of context, though.

    Yung Bae – “Wonder”: Good call. I’m not sure this breaks any new ground either, but it mixes things together in new ways that make me glad to be listening to it.

    Foushee – “2 L8”: Her voice is amazing and I’d like to listen to other songs that aren’t Carole King tracks. I also want to call out the key changes (i.e., those truck driver gear shifts) late in the song, and note that there is no good reason to modulate like that twice in a row. It reeks of an insecure kid screaming, “Look at me! I’m talented and clever!” Still, though, I love her voice.

    Richard Dawson and Circle – “Pitcher”: This is the only song I couldn’t get through. It was completely unlistenable for me.

    The Dictators – “Let’s Get the Band Back Together”: This is another one you wrote about and my feelings haven’t changed: there’s a lot of joyful fun packed into these two and a half minutes. I’m glad you introduced me to this one.

    Reiko Yamada and Tochigi-ken Symphony Orchestra – Ritmica Ostinata: Another great one I wouldn’t have discovered on my own. Definitely a highlight of all the music covered on the blog this year. It’s a shame this won’t get more attention.

    Natalie Bergman – “Shine Your Light on Me”: This one was tough for me to hear the way you heard it. I wanted to like it and I read a bit about the story and the struggle behind her song, but for me the song didn’t capture the struggle. It sounded like fairly straightforward contemporary praise music to me.

    All in all, though, I enjoyed the mix. With a few exceptions, I wouldn’t have heard any of these without your compilation, and I’m glad to have heard all of them, even the ones I didn’t like. Thanks for putting this together and sharing it!

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  2. Chuck

    One more thought on Natalie Bergman: I wanted this record to be the musical equivalent to Rachel Held Evans, the Christian writer whose entire career was basically about her struggle with Christianity, especially the evangelical Christianity that she was taught as a child and young adult. I’ve only read Evans’ first book so far, but it’s a book I think about regularly and it made me think about Christianity and faith in new ways. Maybe it’s unfair to ask Bergman to do for me on an album what Evans did for me in a book, but I think that’s why this album fell flat for me.

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  3. bobvinyl Post author

    I’ll probably work my way through responding across multiple comments. I’ll start with Beach House. I love what you picked up on with the eighths and sixteenths. I had not consciously heard that, but I think it is part of what I really liked in this song. It functions almost like percussion in a way.

    Do you like Blondie? Your complaints about LeGrand are similar to Lester Bangs’ complaints about Debbie Harry. I tend to like that, but it is limited unlike your other examples.

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  4. Chuck

    Yeah, I’m glad you know what I’m talking about with the rhythmic thing that happens between the eighths and sixteenths. I didn’t listen closely enough to really dissect what’s going on, but it seems like there’s a weird polyrhythmic thing happening where the note that you think is the one is actually someplace in the middle. It’s a very cool and disorienting effect when done well, and it’s definitely done well here.

    I never listened to Blondie enough but intuitively the similarity resonates. I need to go back and listen to one or two of their key albums. And I want to think more about my complaint too, and how it relates to femininity and masculinity in rock/punk/indie music. If the Blondie comment holds up, then maybe my complaint is rooted in Debbie Harry, which would add an interesting perspective.

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  5. bobvinyl Post author

    Naked Raygun is a pretty old band going back to the early to mid 80s. Jeff Pezatti, the singer, is in his early 60s, but I don’t think his voice has change tremendously. I’m pretty sure he suffers from MS.

    The Low song was weird, because I liked the beginning instantly, but the heavily distorted part and the meandering ending both took time to grow on me over a lot of listening in the first few days it was out. I think the repetition of “again” gives it meaning, but could mask meaninglessness in the music itself. It’s hard to tell.

    Catenary Wires is very English, so I think that is what you are connecting to “Stonehenge.” Do you like Belle and Sebastian? To me, the big dig against Catenary Wires is that they are pretty close to B&S, so opinion on the two is probably not too different.

    I can see your connection between Bonbon Vodou and Graceland. Creole/Cajun music is something that Paul Simon drew upon in addition to the South African stuff. I don’t think I connect the two though. I enjoy them independently. BV is interesting. Graceland is amazing.

    The Madlib record is probably best listened to in its entirety. I actually picked this song as maybe the best to stand on its own.

    You are right about the modulation in the Foushee song. I like the song, but listening again, it is problematic. Interestingly, I just watched an interesting video about “Good Vibrations” and changes keys like four times in the chorus alone. The difference is that Brian Wilson did it with purpose.

    One thing that I love about Natalie Bergman is that I cannot quite put my finger on why she is different than praise music as a genre. Some of it is in the lyrics (and this song is not the best example), but there is more to it. It is a mystery to me.

    I don’t disagree with you about Dirty Streets and Handsome Jack. I just wanted some rock music on there. Had I been disciplined about the length, one or both would have been on the chopping block. When I used to put them on CDs and give them out, it forced me to make these decisions and I really should make them anyway. It is better to leave something out and make Rumours than it is to include everything and make Tusk (which I listened to recently and decided that if forced to describe it in one word, that word would be “long”).

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  6. Chuck

    I listened to all of the Belle & Sebastian records a few years back. I enjoyed the experience and liked them a lot more than I thought I would, but I have not once had a desire to listen to them again since then. The whole traditional British folk think generally leaves me flat, though I suppose I should try to be more open to it.

    I’ve been listening to Tusk a lot lately. Hopefully will post something here before too long.

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  7. Chuck

    So I said I was going to post my own list of 2021 music, but the more I think about it, I just don’t have much of a list to post. I listened to a lot of music this year but very little of it truly stuck with me. So I’m just going to leave it as a comment to your post. I follow slightly different criteria than you do: For me, it just has to be something I heard for the first time during that year. It doesn’t matter how successful the record is or when it came out, just that I listened for the first time.

    Albums:
    Kolsch – Fabric Presents Kolsch: Hands down the album that had the most impact on me this year, not just from electronic dance music but from any genre. I’ve spent more time listening to this than to anything else all year, but I still haven’t heard it enough. Truly an astounding record, yet it’s so subtle I almost overlooked it.

    Valerie June – The Moon and Stars Prescriptions for Dreamers: When I wrote my review of this after my first few listens, I said, “… if we make it past the thrilling first listen and that awkward car ride where it sounds totally different than it did on midnight headphones, then I will fall in love because of Valerie June’s imperfections.” Well, we made it past all that and I still love the album and June’s voice. I nearly got whiplash when I heard Apple’s “Saving Simon” commercial for the first time, a commercial that does the song justice. (https://youtu.be/S5WaFx8rx54)

    Yoshinori Hayashi – Pulse of Defiance: Other than “Fabric Presents Kolsch,” I listened to this more than any other electronic record in 2021. Unfortunately, I never did track down a physical copy of it, so it eventually got buried in my Spotify favorites, but every time I stumbled across it, I was reminded what a journey it offers.

    Tim Hecker – Virgins: One of the few things listed here that I didn’t write about, mostly because Hecker’s music is virtually impossible for me to capture in words. I’ve fallen behind in listening to his records from the past ~5 years but the time I spent with Virgins in 2021 not only confirmed that Hecker is in my top-10 favorite artists of all time, but also inspired me to commit to buying physical copies of the half dozen albums I still didn’t have.

    Songs:
    Taylor Swift – “‘Tis the Damn Season”: Despite being a huge TS fan, I’ve been slow to listen to Evermore. One of the things I like about Taylor’s typical two-year release schedule is that’s about how long it takes me to fully absorb one of her albums. I was still processing Lover when Folklore came out, and I’m only now nearing the end of my listening cycle for Folklore. Bob’s review of “‘Tis the Damn Season” introduced me to the song and it not only became one of my favorite songs of 2021 but one of my favorite songs by Taylor. She paints a picture in this one, a picture to which I deeply relate.

    Taylor Swift – “All Too Well (Taylor’s Version)” – A stunning reinterpretation of an already great song, this was a lovely surprise at the end of the year.

    Tom Flynn / The Martinez Brothers – “The Future” – I’ll be posting a review of this song at some point in the near future, but this was in constant rotation all summer and fall as I drove my new puppy to the park near my house to help her burn off her new puppy energy. The song changes depending on my mood and acts as a kind of litmus test of my positivity heading into a day.

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