10) Mackin Carroll – “Vampires”
-When I say this song came out of nowhere for me, I mean that. I had never heard of Mackin Carroll. I’m not even sure I know how to identify the genre of this song. Is it Americana? Is it alt rock? Is it indie rock? I don’t know the answer to any of those things. Honestly, the song just… gets me. It’s got a rock base to it with a clear, energetic lead vocal. The lyrics are fabulously complex, requiring multiple listens. But for some of us more introverted types, the desire to be alone to sort out how to understand the world is quite relatable. The mix of fear, anxiety, anger, and frustration resonates well with the past few years we’ve collectively had. This one hit me in some personal and deep places, so I’m happy to feature it here.
9) Andrew Marlin – “Too hot to move”
-This might be the highest I’ve ever ranked an instrumental, but that’s because it’s just so good! Andrew Marlin’s songwriting and performance have been a favorite of mine since I first discovered Mandolin Orange. There’s an authenticity dripping from this composition that feels like it comes from on high… the mountains, maybe, or further up high. In any event, the emotion and sincerity in each line of the melody reminds me of loved ones gone by. Having spent a few years in the oppressive heat of the South, I can relate to the lyrics as well. It’s a beautifully relatable song.
8) Adam Melchor – “Moon in the Morning”
-I was struck by the unconventional energy of Adam Melchor’s songwriting right away; I ranked his album Lullaby Hotline Vol. 1 for good reason and this song might be the biggest reason. Written with a musical theatre energy to it, Melchor’s style comes through with brilliant lyrics and risk-taking melodic construction. The harmonies, of course, are my favorite part. But it’s incredibly rare to find a song that tells a story so well with the twists and turns that this track has without feeling overwhelming. This song is a sonic listening experience. You can’t put this on in the background. Enjoy the Beach Boy style harmonies, the Andrew Lloyd Webber theatrical dynamism, and the lyrical brilliance that is all Adam Melchor. What a delight.
7) Charm of Finches – “Canyon”
-You’ve never heard a song quite like this, but you will love it. As I told some friends of mine, the 50 second mark of this song is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard in my entire life. That’s not an exaggeration at all. The harmonies on this song are absolutely stunning. The mood shift between the acoustic solo/duo voice in the opening to the rich harmony mix is one of the most beautiful displays of dynamics I’ve heard in music in a long time. The track is simply on another level. I continue to come back to it over and over as I want to hear gorgeous harmonies.
6) Zan Fiskum – “Come home”
-There’s a breathy, sweet energy to this track in the opening that immediately caught my attention. But as you continue to listen, the song grows into something absolutely gorgeous. This song was the top track on my Coffeeshop Playlist most of the year and for good reason. The welcoming message in the lyrics is met with a seductive call “home” by the lead vocal. It’s intimate, evocative, yet also gently romantic. To be honest, it reminds me a little of 19th century romanticism. The chord selection and production work wonderfully in allowing the sincerity of the message and brilliance of the preformance to shine through.
5) Kolby Knickerbocker – “Prayer”
-From the first time I heard the opening piano chords of this song, I knew there was something different about it. Once I heard Knickerbocker’s vocal softly lay over the piano, it just felt right. It’s an incredibly well mixed and produced song. The production doesn’t get in the way of the message – a prayerful, spiritual, beautiful message – that is a dedication of life. That we might all approach life being “overwhelmed by beauty.” It’s a memory and a devotion, a deeply human account that makes me appreciate my blessings as well.
4) Dodie – “one more time, please” (demo)
-This might be the first time I’ve ever put a demo on my song of the year list, but honestly this is an amazing little tune. Dodie Clark has a wonderful gift of being able to express not just words but emotions as well. By most accounts, as an American suburban dad I shouldn’t really connect with Dodie’s thoughts and experiences. But she invites in the listener with a beautiful tenderness that is undeniably enchanting. This song feels like a music box, a lullaby, and a love song all rolled into one intimate experience. Breathtakingly beautiful.
3) Carson McKee – “Hard travelin” (Woody Guthrie cover)
-I’ve been writing about Carson McKee for a long time, but this song just tickled my fancy. Of course I’m a sucker for folk music history so it doesn’t get much better than Guthrie. That said, I think even Woody Guthrie himself would admit he never picked as cleanly or sang as well as Carson does on this cover. McKee does a great job of preserving the spirit of the song while giving it a contemporary energy. I just love it.
2) Olivia Ellen Lloyd – “In the Valley”
-If you read my albums of the year list, you already know this album won it for me. It’s also my favorite song from that favorite album, so of course it was destined for this list. As I wrote in that review, I consider this song a “must listen” for any fan of Americana music. It sat at the top of my Americana playlist most of the year (deservedly so). Lloyd’s expressive songwriting absolutely shines on this track. Even after all these listens it still gives me chills and makes me tear up a little bit. I don’t know how, but it just gets right into my soul. Enjoy.
- Abby Holiday – “Nothing from me”
-This is one of the most unconventional picks for my song of the year, but it is single-handedly the song that has given me chills the most in 2021. Everything about this composition speaks to my soul. The orchestral elements are fabulous, the vocal is impressive, and the composition rises towards one of the most satisfying climactic payoffs I’ve heard in recent memory. To put it into perspective, every time I listen to this song I feel the impulse to turn it up when it hits the chorus and again later in the track for the glorious finish. This track holds so much depth and meaning; the listener can feel the longing in the writing and the vocal. It’s gorgeous and I’m so glad to have found Abby Holiday this year.