Best of 2021: It's been a phenomenal year for music. As the world's made a tentative return to normality, so have artists and producers, stepping back into unshuttered studios, heading out on long-postponed tours and channelling the inspiration generated by a reunion with the world around us into new ideas.
Out of great ideas, come great tracks - and there was no shortage this year, from the exultant pop of Charli XCX to the ambient introspection of Jon Hopkins.
Here are the tracks you voted the best of 2021.
1. Winner, Best Track of 2021: Charli XCX (feat. Christine and The Queens and Caroline Polachek) - New Shapes
Absolutely storming this year's poll with over half the votes cast, 2021's winning track flies the flag for a new generation of pop artists transforming the neon-bright sounds of the '80s into radical new shapes.
Showcasing the magic that can happen when you place three of the best songwriters and vocalists working in contemporary pop together in one room, New Shapes outlines the story of a failing relationship over sky-high blasts of synthesizer and an anthemic, chest-pounding chorus. Heartbreak's never sounded so good.
2. Jon Hopkins with Ram Dass, East Forest - Sit Around The Fire
Never before have the two songs snatching this poll's top spots been so remarkably dissimilar. A world away from Charli XCX's maximalist pop bangers, Jon Hopkins' Sit Around The Fire is a delicate work of ambient spiritualism.
Taken from his latest album, Music For Psychedelic Therapy, the track weaves gossamer textures of sound around an evocative recording of spiritual teacher Ram Dass, making for a uniquely enveloping experience that has the power to soothe, captivate, and even heal.
- Read more: Jon Hopkins: "I don’t really have any modular synths, drum machines or any of that stuff - it’s all really Ableton and source audio from random places"
3. Silk Sonic - Fly As Me
Silk Sonic's paean to '70s R&B, An Evening With Silk Sonic, captures everything we know and love about that golden era - warmth, extravagance, and more smooth vibes than you can shake a glockenspiel at - and distills it into an indefatigably funky concoction that's best served over ice and consumed while reclining on a chaise-longue in your finest bathrobe.
The concept behind Silk Sonic may have started as a joke shared by Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak while out on tour, but the precision production chops and stunning musicianship displayed on tracks like Fly As Me is no laughing matter.
4. Jimmy Edgar - Metal (feat. SOPHIE)
Jimmy Edgar met SOPHIE in London's Fabric club in the early 2010s, forging a creative partnership that led to mind-bending live performances and collaborative production work for Vince Staples and Charli XCX. Their first joint release, landing on Edgar's LP CHEETAH BEND, closely followed SOPHIE's untimely passing earlier this year.
Capturing the off-the-wall sensibilities that makes both of these producers great, METAL is said to be "reflective of our love for designer sounds finely sculpted on boutique computer equipment", according to a statement on Jimmy Edgar's Bandcamp. To our ears, it sounds like what a particularly creative extraterrestrial might come up with if you tasked them with recreating trap music, and we love it.
5. Overmono - So U Kno
Undoubtedly one of 2021's biggest club tracks, Overmono's So U Kno acted as something of an anthem for our collective return to the dancefloor this year. Irrepressibly propulsive and deceptively simple, this one shows that you really don't need a whole lot of complex elements to put together an absolute banger: in this case, a low-slung garage-house beat, cavernous Reese bass and a handful of pitch-perfect vocal samples will do just fine.
6. Blawan - Under Belly
Over the past decade, British post-dubstep-gone-techno producer Blawan's strayed far from the genius vocal sampling that characterised breakout tracks like Getting Me Down and Why They Hide Their Bodies Under My Garage? - these days, he's better known for coaxing bone-crushing rhythms out of his elaborate modular setup.
On his latest release, though, Blawan's flipped the script and recaptured some of the magic that coursed through his early work. The Woke Up Right Handed EP's packed with gems, but standout Under Belly is one of the strangest, most head-spinning club tracks to land this year, channelling what sounds like the oom-pah rhythms of a brass band into some utterly ferocious distortion.
- Read more: Blawan: "I put the Why They Hide Their Bodies… track out, and was totally shocked by how popular it was. I was kind of like, ‘F***, I’ve made a big mistake here.’"
7. Fred Again - Dermot (See Yourself In My Eyes)
Fred Again's found the time to release not one, but two albums this year, while working on four of Ed Sheeran's chart-dominating singles, though we're not surprised: the man seems to have a limitless enthusiasm for music-making that's truly a joy to behold.
Built around samples found on the web, contributed by collaborators and recorded on his iPhone, the Actual Life series is a document of Fred's inspiration. Our pick of the bunch is Dermot (See Yourself In My Eyes), which reworks Irish singer-songwriter Dermot Kennedy's vocals into a track that manages to be ecstatically danceable and tear-jerkingly sentimental all at once.
8. Elkka - Burnt Orange
Signed to Ninja Tune's Technicolour imprint, London-based DJ and producer Emma Kirby released the Euphoric Melodies EP back in May, and lead track Burnt Orange immediately turned heads and caught ears with its subtle yet powerful amalgam of house and electronica.
"I wanted to create music for both intimate and public spaces," Emma said of the track on her Bandcamp. She's undoubtedly perfected a balance between the two, producing a tenderly propulsive dance cut that rivals its influences - Four Tet, Floating Points, Bonobo - in its ability to reward both headphone and dancefloor listening.
- Read more: Elkka: "I visited Floating Points at his studio, which was like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory"
9. Loraine James - Running Like That (feat. Eden Samara)
Though she'd already made a name for herself with a handful of standout EPs and her 2019 Hyperdub debut, it was Loraine James' Reflection that firmly placed the producer on the map as one of the UK's most exciting experimental electronic artists. Packed with skewed, glitchy beats and alien synth textures, it's her most captivating, singular musical statement to date.
Running Like That is a clear highlight, neatly capturing the record's disdain for genre by laying down a R&B-esque vocal performance from Eden Samara over a choppy, grime-adjacent beat, producing something both innovative and intimate. Or, as one particularly perceptive Bandcamp user described it: "Aphex Twin for people who have sex."
10. Dave & James Blake - Both Sides of a Smile
What doesn't this track have? In one of the year's most genius collaborations, Dave and James Blake pack profound lyricism, impeccable songcraft, and next-level production into a song that poignantly reflects on a relationship gone wrong.
Coming in at eight minutes long, Both Sides of a Smile works wonders with the extra runtime, building dramatic tension towards a slow-burn climax that makes you wonder why these two didn't write a whole album together.