The 25 Best Tracks of 2021 (So Far)

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Jul 28, 2021
Beatportal Staff and Contributors
With the help of our contributors from around the world, Beatportal compiles the 25 best tracks of 2021 (so far). Read on, and check out the full 25-track playlist below.
Nia Archives – Headz Gone West
Genre: Drum & Bass Label: 2021 HIJINXX An unlikely contender to join the likes of Afroman’s “Because I Got High” or Cypress Hill’s “Hits From the Bong,” as best songs about weed, Nia Archives’ ode to getting high is a bit more poignant. The titular track from her debut EP, “Headz Gone West” mixes frenetic jungle production with Archives’ impressive vocal range as she touches on the watermarks of youth: drugs and angst. It’s the standout track on a standout EP, making her one of the most hotly-tipped artists of 2021. — Henry Ivry
Jayda G – All I Need
Genre: Deep House Label: !K7 Encapsulating everyone’s sadness and lockdown-enforced division following a year of not being able to hit the dancefloor, “All I Need” distills that pent-up energy into a beautiful piano-led, groove-filled hook, and gorgeous singalong vocal. Both poignantly emotive and joyously euphoric, its restrained ecstasy is just as likely to make you cry in the club as it will dance. An idyllic soundtrack for that long-awaited hug with friends as the lights come on at the end of the first night back, “All I Need” is the sonic embodiment of physical connection. It’s the release we’ve been longing for. — Ben Jolley
Gorgon City ft. DRAMA – You’ve Done Enough
Genre: Dance / Electro Pop Label: Positiva “I know what it’s like to be hopeless, I know what it feels to be broken. It’s a slow process, it takes time to love yourself,” Via Rosa of DRAMA soulfully muses over a pulsing Gorgon City beat halfway through “You’ve Done Enough.” Released in January 2021 ahead of Gorgon City’s sophomore epic, Olympia, and as much of the globe was still in the depths of the pandemic, it’s the perfect track to dance by yourself to. With an energizing bassline and spacey synths, it’s sure to sound great on dancefloors as they reopen, with Rosa’s angelic voice assuring weary ravers. — Ana Monroy Yglesias
Justin Jay & Claude VonStroke – Woo
Genre: Bass / Club Label: Dirtybird The latest release from Dirtybird founder Claude VonStroke and longtime label stalwart Justin Jay certainly caused a few double-takes when it dropped; while the label is best known for its bass-heavy tech house groovers, the duo went in an altogether leftfield, UK-influenced direction for their Oh EP, forgoing 4×4 beats in favour of skippy, saturated percussion and quick-fire vocal samples on standout track “Woo.” In a conversation with Beatportal at the time of release, Vonstroke revealed that the release was the result of he and Justin Jay veering off from the “homogenous and annoying” demos that had been filling the label’s inbox. Here’s hoping for more of the same sonic experimentation in the future. — Will Gulseven
Wayward – All A Bit Mad
Genre: Breaks / Breakbeat / UK Bass Label: Silverbear Recordings “Are you ready to party an’ that? Make some noise!” London-based duo Wayward came flying out of the gate this year for the lead-up to their debut album, Waiting For The World — out now via Silverbear Recordings. The hype for this phenomenal 10-track LP had a proper buildup with their explosive taster, “All A Bit Mad.” Sampling Femi Koleoso — drummer of pioneering London nu jazz band Ezra Collective — to make him sound as though he’s an MC at a proper UK rave, the crowd encouragement perfectly magnifies the track’s beefy breaks and honeyed synth lines. Being the first tune the duo made at the start of lockdown, and as their heartwarming and hilarious music video shows, it was inspired by the idea of having to come to terms with the fact that live music would be taking a considerable hiatus. However, the disco lights at the end of the Covid tunnel continue to grow closer, and this tune bumps just as heavily on a dance floor as it does at home. — Cameron Holbrook
Rochelle Jordan – Love You Good
Genre: Dance / Electro Pop Label: Young Art Records Toronto R&B singer Rochelle Jordan received critical acclaim for her latest album, Play With The Changes, which, as the name implies, came together following several life changes, including a move to Los Angeles, years of difficult health complications, and a bad record deal. But by once again teaming up with collaborators like KLSH, Machinedrum, and Jimmy Edgar — who she worked with on 2014’s 1021 — Jordan’s melancholic take on R&B shines superbly. This is especially true on the album’s opener, “Love You Good,” a supremely sublime cut of drum & bass that cannily rubs shoulders with pop through Jordan’s shimmering vocals while remaining true to its liquid roots. Stunner. — Chandler Shortlidge
Sofia Kourtesis – By Your Side
Genre: Deep House Label: Technicolour Fresia Magdalena, the most recent EP from Berlin-based, Peruvian producer Sofia Kourtesis, is named after her mother (Fresia), and the district in Lima she’s from (Magdalena). The EP began as a collection of field recordings from Lima, and developed into Kourtesis’ most beatific work to date. “By Your Side”, the second single, has enjoyed almost daily radio play on 6 Music for months, as well as racking up almost three million plays on Spotify. What starts as a low-fi groove with punchy drum claps blooms into a vibrant, heartening house that glistens and shimmers with its twinkling keys and flashy horn sections. — Katie Thomas
Anz – Unravel in the Designated Zone
Genre: Electronica Label: OTMI Having delivered one of 2020’s essential releases with “Loos In Twos (NRG)” on Hessle Audio, Anz launched her own label, OTMI, this spring with a two-track release that showcased the ever-broadening scope of her productions and her dedication to bulldozing genre boundaries. With the label based around the concept of ‘other halves’, Anz paired the melodic “Unravel in the Designated Zone” with the heavier B-side, “Morphing Into Brighter.” Combining elements of G-funk and broken beat with the blissful nostalgia of a ’90s video game soundtrack, “Unravel” is tied together by a soaring earworm of a melody that’ll be bouncing around your head for hours. — Will Gulseven
LOFT – Wish It Would Rain
Genre: Bass / Club Label: 2 B REAL I’m still having trouble getting my head around the fact that the American crooner Mayer Hawthorne’s 2010 melancholic “I Wish It Would Rain” ballad has been turned into one of the biggest bangers of 2021. But alas, in a year of unpredictability, I think LOFT, AKA Aya’s infectious Baltimore-club referencing “Wish It Would Rain” is one of the better surprises to come out. At turns melancholic and euphoric, the sub bass on this one gets into your chest and won’t let go for 5-and-a-half minutes of perfection. — Henry Ivry
Bklava – Close To You
Genre: UK Garage / Bassline / UK Garage Label: Ministry of Sound Recordings As a leader of the UK garage and bassline revival, singer, songwriter, producer, DJ and 2-step queen Bklava has burst onto the dance scene in a massive way, making her distinct mark as a one-woman hit machine and incredible live performer. And, listening to radio-and-club-friendly bop “Close To You,” it’s easy to see why: with her sweetly seductive and instantly infectious vocal at the centre of nostalgic ’90s-inspired garage production, this silky smooth groover has real crossover potential. As soon as the slippery liquid-like beat hits, your body will be moving as you sing along to the earworm chart-ready chorus. — Ben Jolley
Carl Cox, Geraldine Hunt – Can’t Fake the Feeling (Carl Cox Extended Rework)
Genre: Nu Disco / Disco Label: Unidisc What could possibly be more joyful and uplifting than Carl Cox and disco? Opening with funky bass, congas and strings, Carl’s rework of Geraldine Hunt’s 1980 disco hit “Can’t Fake the Feeling” is impossible to not groove along to. Showcasing the classic bass from the original and some of the strings, and subbing in drums for hand claps, Carl’s reimagining pumps the tempo up to match his unstoppable energy, yet keeps the funk alive and well in this infectious jam. It’s part of Canadian label Unidisc’s 40-year anniversary celebration, where they’ve tapped current heavy-hitter DJ/producers like Carl to rework classic disco hits from their catalog. Make sure you check ’em all out. — Ana Monroy Yglesias
Mark Broom – Fingers
Genre: House Label: Rekids Even given by his own remarkable standards over 30-odd years, Mark Broom has had a good 2021. Both his releases, and his Instagram live jams — joyfully re-editing everyone from Luther Vandross to Underground Resistance on the fly — have shown Broom audibly loving what he does. His tracks on Radio Slave’s Rekids glide through dub, electro, boogie and more, plus this piece of pure house emotion. As the title suggests, the bassline nods to Larry Heard, but it’s not just retro – the strings and incredible ticking hi-hat switch up are all about the impeccable understanding of sound in the here and now. — Joe Muggs
Kessler – Moonlight Branches
Genre: Breaks / Breakbeat / UK Bass Label: Shall Not Fade A few years back, Eddy Kennedy (AKA Kessler) suffered a minor heart attack that left him bedridden for two weeks. During that time, he started playing around with music production on his laptop, and something clicked — and wow, what a run it has been so far. Hailing from Belfast and currently based in Rotterdam (NL), the last two years have seen Kessler go from strength to strength with his forays into multiple genre territories, seamlessly snaking through the realms of garage, jungle, techno, and unrestricted electro. With widely-supported releases on labels like Yellow Island Records, Left, Right & Centre, Hospital Records, and more, Kessler’s standout release so far is hands down his six-track Ambivalent EP on Shall Not Fade. The record’s high-point is “Moonlight Branches” — a visceral composition with swarming breaks that underline the track’s whimsical melody and driving vocal pattern. — Cameron Holbrook
Prayer – No One Left
Genre: Drum & Bass Label: Hooversound Recordings It’s no secret that drum & bass and jungle are having a moment. It’s a moment contributor Joe Rhyn documented late last year in his profile on some of the underground scene’s hottest stars. And without a doubt, one of the biggest stars of this resurgent scene is Sherelle (who we also profiled last year) and her label Hooversound (run alongside Naina), which has already dropped several genre-defining releases in its incredibly short lifespan — it launched a year ago with around seven EPs to its name so far. Case in point, Prayer’s goosebump-inducing EP In Your Arms, featuring the magnificent single “No One Left.” With its deeply melancholic strings and cinematic vocals, it feels a little like a collision between epic trance and drum & bass, in the best possible way. Long live the comeback — even if D&B never really went away. — Chandler Shortlidge
Peder Mannerfelt – Year Of The Rats
Genre: Techno (Raw / Deep / Hypnotic) Label: Voam Taken from March’s And The Band Played On EP on Karenn’s excellent Voam series, Peder Mannerfelt’s menacingly unpredictable takes on techno feel perfectly at home on a label that continues to find myriad ways to make techno sound exhilarating. “Year of the Rats” is a shunting, darkly psychedelic piece of warehouse techno, with an interpolated vocal sample providing something lighter for the mind to latch onto. Mannerfelt just about keeps a handle on the surging intensity, which undulates under the surface throughout, expertly guided by a master of the craft. It’s out-there, tough, trippy, and a load of fun. — Sean Beeby
India Jordan – Only Said Enough
Genre: Breaks / Breakbeat / UK Bass Label: Ninja Tune 2020 was, without a doubt, a breakthrough year for Manchester producer and DJ India Jordan. Their EP For You topped just about every best-of list. Their follow-up, Watch Out, is just as massive, this time channeling the velocity of their debut through ’90s hardcore. Best of the bunch is “Only Said Enough.” From the moment the tough-as-nails break and the classic vocal wail hits, you know you are going to be ‘aving it proper (and just wait for the Reese bassline in the song’s final third). — Henry Ivry
Loraine James – Running Like That (feat. Eden Samara)
Genre: Electronica Label: Hyperdub Put together Eden Samara’s floating vocal with Loraine James’ expansive, frenetic production, and you’ve got something of 2021’s CUT 4 ME — Kelela’s 2013 mixtape on Fade to Mind. On “Running Like That,” a collaboration that appears on James’ latest album Reflection, Samara sings over fractured beats and a crunching low-end about being chased by the voices in your head. In a palette that’s jagged and unpredictable, James threads softness in too with warm, hazy synths. “Running Like That” is a standout on a startling record that has further cemented James as one of the UK’s most dynamic and exciting producers. — Katie Thomas
Iglew – Caffeine Dreams
Genre: Bass / Club Label: Wisdom Teeth If drum & bass/jungle are having a moment, so is a certain strain of bass music that’s nearly impossible to classify. Coming from camps like the Wisdom Teeth and Human Pitch labels (Human Pitch even bills itself as “dedicated to new frontiers in electronic and unclassifiable music”), artists at the forefront of this scene are Human Pitch co-founder Tristan Arp, and the UK’s Iglew, who made his musical return after a six year hiatus to Facta and K-LONE’s Wisdom Teeth with the Light Armour EP. While the bulk of the EP is light, mellow, breezy, and even ambient, “Caffeine Dream” begins with a warped, bubbling melody before diving into a monstrous build. From there, one of the year’s most distinct and wonderful tracks only gets better. Kudos. — Chandler Shortlidge
Special Request – Pull Up (Tim Reaper Remix)
Genre: Drum & Bass Label: Hooversound Recordings Jungle fans couldn’t believe their luck when Hooversound Recordings announced this release back in January, as one of the modern scene’s most beloved producers, Tim Reaper, stepped up to remix four tracks from Paul Woolford’s Special Request alias. Being asked to remix “Pull Up” — one of the highlights of Special Request’s Zero Fucks album — might be too intimidating for most producers. Not so for Tim Reaper, who swapped the piano chords of the original for an ethereal melody, warp-speed Amen breaks, and a Reese bass that would make Ray Keith’s jaw drop. — Will Gulseven
Karima F – Sheer Rage
Genre: House Label: Schloss Recorded in 2019 during a year spent tucked away in a recording studio in the Cotswolds hills, “Sheer Rage” comes via Karima F’s own imprint Schloss and follows her standout contribution to last year’s stacked Mother’s Finest V/A compilation (the Limmy-referencing “Falconhoof“). Karima’s noted love of UK syncopation shines bright from the off, leading with a scuffed, percussive 2-step. But it’s the technicolour layers that follow which elevate it beyond mere dancefloor tackle. Crystalline electronic melodies and pads meld in amongst the rhythmic jags, slowly conjuring up an introspective, subdued euphoria before evaporating off back into the hills. — Sean Beeby
Modeselektor – Social Distancing (Bored Lord Remix)
Genre: UK Garage / Bassline Label: Monkeytown Taken from the second remix EP of Modeselektor’s Extended mixtape, the seven-track Social Distancing EP focuses on the pair’s latest tune with London rapper Flohio. Featuring remixes from the likes of Little Snake, JManuel & Anna Z, FJAAK, and Richard Devine, the remix by Bay Area artist Bored Lord towers above the rest. A bassline masterpiece with sparse synths and echoing vocal hits that swim alongside Flohio’s fierce lyrical swagger, the remix is a taste of the boundless creativity this exciting up-and-comer has to offer. — Cameron Holbrook
Octo Octa – Find Your Way Home
Genre: Melodic House & Techno Label: T4T LUV NRG Octo Octa wrote “Find Your Way Home,” the lead single from her She’s Calling EP, in early 2020. What was originally meant to signify her own inward journey became a very literal title, as she was forced to travel home to the States at the beginning of the pandemic. Over eight minutes the track moves from thumping ’90s house with blushing pads and live record scratches into a moody acid wobbler before erupting into ravey breaks to close. As with everything Octo Octa and her partner Eris Drew bring to the table, “Find Your Way Home” is an uplifting affirmation of dance music’s ability to bring us together, even when we’re apart. — Katie Thomas
Big Dope P – Work Move Shake (feat. DJ Slugo)
Genre: Bass / Club Label: Moveltraxx When we caught up with Moveltraxx founder Big Dope P last year for our Label of the Month feature, he spoke passionately about the need for today’s producers to keep it real and pay tribute to the artists who influenced them, and it’s hard to think of a bigger stamp of authenticity than having the self-proclaimed “King of Ghetto House” DJ Slugo record vocals for your track. On “Work Move Shake,” Big Dope P takes all the ingredients of an electro-funk anthem and shakes them up into a potent, irresistibly groovy cocktail, while Slugo commands you to ‘get your ass up on the floor.” And who are we to argue? — Will Gulseven
Charlie – Spacer Woman (Dana Ruh Rework)
Genre: Electro (Classic / Detroit / Modern) Label: AUTUM Released in 1983, Charlie’s Italo classic “Spacer Woman” is a timeless dance floor staple that has only grown in popularity since first hitting the airwaves almost 40 years ago. Written from the perspective of an extraterrestrial feminine being who is pleading with audiences for feelings of earthly love, this seductive and all too memorable track is one of the many miracles of the Italo disco saga. Goody Music Production recruited Dana Ruh to rework the track for an official Spacer Woman remix package, and the result is a marvel. The esteemed Berlin-based DJ/producer reels the tune back with sneaky acid lines, feathery chords, and unpredictable builds and turns that put an invigorated spin on its arrangement. — Cameron Holbrook
Beatportal's Top 25 Tracks of 2021 (So Far)