Losing track of new music has been easy these during the last 12 months, especially if you've spent them seeking comfort, metaphorically screaming “help me” and intermittently ordering despondency-fuelled takeaway food.
Here, the VICE UK editorial team present 14 songs that get us excited about how music will look, sound and feel over the next year – whether it’s blasting from festival stages, beaming across dancefloors or simply pulsating in your headphones as we adjust to the times.
RUSS MILLIONS X TION WAYNE – ‘BODY’
Has anyone ever asked Tion Wayne how much cash he keeps in a shoebox under his bed? According to this song it’s “more than a mil’ in savings / but you can still get a shaving”. Oof. Right from the kickoff, this 400-degree rap collab with Russ Millions pushes the boundaries of what feels acceptable to hear after being locked inside for months.
Another meet-up between these two British drillers was always going to be good – it follows the duo’s chart-storming 2019 collab “Keisha & Becky”. This, however, features several petrol stations’ worth of gasoline-soaked bars. All you need is a brief whiff to stoke your synapses. “What, you wanna get smoked? Cigarette” – sure, I’d take that right now, to be honest; every moment I’m not listening to this heater makes me feel less alive. – Ryan Bassil
TKAY MAIDZA FT. YUNG BABY TATE – ‘KIM’
It boggles the mind that Tkay Maidza didn’t take off in 2020 like a Tesla Roadster into space. Yes, her release Last Year Was Weird, Vol. 2 was name-checked in several end-of-year lists and crowned “Best EP of the Year” by The Needle Drop, but she’s so good I consider this to fall into the category of “slept on”. The amount of creative vision and talent that goes into her work is unmatched, whether she’s spitting bars alongside JPEGMafia or executing some TLC-style choreo in the desert. This voice, these looks, that production, are you mad? It’s like Missy Elliott, M.I.A and Lil Kim rolled into one.
Anyway, Tkay recently signed to 4AD and dropped this collab with Yung Baby Tate paying homage to pop culture’s various iconic Kim’s – Kardashian, Lil and Possible are all represented. What did I tell you about the range??? – Emma Garland
ETHEL CAIN FT. LIL AARON - ‘MICHELLE PFEIFFER’
An entry for the sad high femmes and gay men of the world who love Lana Del Rey but are also fans of guitar music, “Michelle Pfeiffer” is a lo-fi ballad about the sort of destructive relationships you have in your early twenties. It’s by Ethel Cain, a 23-year-old singer-songwriter from Florida who grew up in a Southern Baptist family; as a result, this spectral-leaning track gestures towards American gothic, religious iconography and bedroom pop aesthetics.
With a duet from emo-trap artist lil aaron, it’s also the best of emo-rap and contemporary indie rock (if you were wondering if emo-rap had anywhere to go, here’s the answer). It’s a feat to create something so bracingly fresh yet emotionally familiar. Imagine this belted from a Reading Festival tent stage to an overflow of mournful women or soundtracking a heartbreak scene on the Gossip Girl reboot. – Hannah Ewens
YAW TOG, STORMZY AND KWESI ARTHUR – ‘SORE (REMIX')’
Certain songs function as a prerequisite to all kinds of festival field madness. Think: dust clouds, tops off, sweated out eyeliner. This is one of those. The original version rocketed Ghanian drill poster boy Yaw Tog and his Kumasi drill scene buddies Jay Bahd, O’Kenneth, City Boy and Reggie onto the world stage when it was released last September. Now there’s a remix featuring British rapper Stormzy, AKA Big Mike – AKA the tallest guy in the music video – who furnishes the concrete-heavy bass slabs of '“Sore” with greazy rude-boy energy, pontificating about being “a real foul yout like Joffrey”. Pass the keys: this is down your drink and pile into the mosh-pit music. – Ryan Bassil
TASHA - ‘WOULD YOU MIND PLEASE PULLING ME CLOSE?’
As the clocks jump forward and we enter our second strange S/S season under COVID, the opening lyrics “Summers hardly feel like summer anymore / I can’t seem to lift myself up off the floor” hit like a tequila shot on an empty stomach. On this gentle mostly-guitar track, the multidisciplinary Chicago-based artist Tasha writes with aching precision about losing those close to you, and reflexively pulling everyone and everything around you closer. Combining the vocal depth and slow crescendos of Beach House, and the effective minimalism of bedroom artists like Alex G and Florist, Tasha is one of the few songwriters to truly reckon with the emotional fallout of the last year. – Emma Garland
GLAIVE, ERICDOA - ‘CLOAK N DAGGER’
One year of lockdowns hasn't exactly been a “creative time” for most, and musicians have in many ways slowed down their output. Unless you're 16-year-old Ash Gutierrez – AKA glaive – that is, who was an unknown teen from North Carolina just one year ago, but has since become a kind of culty internet figure, most often mentioned in the same sentence as “hyperpop”.
Hyperpop isn't usually my jam, but there's something special about glaive. His sound is sugary, emotive and intuitive when it comes to hooks. There's this moment halfway through “Cloak n Dagger” – which came out earlier this year, in January – where he goes from singing “She said 'Fuck you, I hope you burn in hell'” over a quick synthetic beat, before the whole thing parts like clouds, sunshine-soaked synth bursting through, his voice equal parts sad and angelic. – Daisy Jones
THE BLOSSOM – “HARDCORE HAPPY”
THE BLOSSOM – the stage name of late teens musician Lily Lizotte – is what happens when the generation raised under post-Y2 K MTV and third generation emo-pop readies their own mood-beating music. Essentially, what I’m saying is: Grab your Yankees fitted and tighten your cargo belt, because we’re heading to the 2000s, bitch. Their anthemic, shoegazey single “Hardcore Happy” from their debut EP 97 springs into action with cinematic yearning in spite of feeling like the world is falling apart. Think Mazzy Star if they shopped at Depop and listened to Dipset. Ryan Bassil
ICEAGE – ‘SHELTER SONG’
Iceage are well established at this point, so I’ll just say this: I’m always happy to hear from Copenhagen’s greatest yearners, and I’m extremely here for this somewhat unexpected pivot to Gallagher-style anthems complete with a backing choir, neo-psychedelic guitars and a football-friendly chorus of “They kick you when you’re up, they knock you when you’re down”. – Emma Garland
LYCORISCORIS – ‘SHIZUMU’
Until lockdown, I never thought about dance music as being anything other than a vehicle for clubbing and getting fucked. I didn’t think it could feel melodic, warm, sad or uplifting, like post-rock or Radiohead. Enter my current fave: Lycoriscoris from Japan, whose music is unbelievably rich, yet atmospheric, like walking through a gallery you saw once in a dream. His new track “Shizumu” means “sink” in Japanese and has a beautiful illustrated music video of a person falling through different colours until they disappear completely. That's how his production feels – sinking into layers of warm, creamy piano sampled with really orchestral percussion. I can't wait to experience this kind of music in real life, in front of a huge speaker with other sadboi/sadgirl electronic geeks, once clubs and festivals open. – Helen Thomas
DENISE CHAILA FT. JAFARIS – ‘ANSEO’
Now this is what we call a complete audio-visual moment. Zambian-born Limerick-raised artist Denise Chaila gives – quite literally – a legendary performance on “ANSEO” (meaning “here” in Irish) as she groves about the place wearing chainmail and wielding swords against elemental backdrops: dense trees, a rugged coastline, a wall of fire. It’s not often you see a mythological aesthetic in rap but, as Chaila explained earlier this year, she’s “always looking for the common denominator between Tolkien, Tupac and mo theaghlach – my home”.
Self-describing as everything from “Black James Bond” to “Sailor Moon remixed by Fela”, Chaila’s unruffled lyrics and seductive delivery slink over a shadowy beat and jazzy piano line, making this one of the most interesting sounding rap songs I’ve heard in a minute. Last year saw Chaila become the highest-ranking Irish woman in the country’s charts. By all rights, she should blow up everywhere in 2021. – Emma Garland
FLOATING POINTS, PHAROAH SANDERS AND LONDON SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA – ‘MOVEMENT 6’
Man may try to reach outer space using Elon Musk’s rocket ships, yet it is saxophonist Pharoah Sanders who can transport the mind to the furthest reaches of consciousness with just a little bit of brass. For the uninitiated, Sanders has played on records by humungous jazz icons like Alice Coltrane, Leon Thomas and Rinai Maurice. He also features on an authentic Supreme t-shirt, meaning the 80-year-old has crossed into the same category as the likes of Kate Moss, Buju Banton and Mike Tyson. His collaboration with British producer Floating Points and a whole damn orchestra on 2021 album Promises will cleanse and exorcise your soul – whether this year or at some point in our celestial bodied futures. Try this track for size. – Ryan Bassil
FOR THOSE I LOVE – ‘YOU STAYED / TO LIVE’
More Irish rap from me, but there’s definitely something in the water lately. For Those I Love is a project from David Balfe, a musician and spoken word artist from north Dublin whose work details the experiences of growing up in a community gutted by poverty and violence from a place of love.
His self-titled debut is full of memories and photographic detail – many of which centre on his best friend and collaborator Paul Curran, whom he lost to suicide in 2018 – giving rise to a combination of collective hopelessness, humour and rage. As writer Colin Gannon put it in a profile for VICE, the album “evokes the rave nostalgia of Jamie XX, the urban melancholia of Burial, and his late friend’s poetic realism and pitch black Dublin wit”.
I can’t wait to see him live, although based on his Jools Holland performance last year I’ll probably cry until my body is roughly 0.5 percent water. – Emma Garland
ANIKA PYLE – ‘BLAME’
Anika Pyle has a singing voice I go totally head over heels for: powerful, sorrowful, a little bit country; sounds amazing in the vicinity of a guitar. This year she released solo album Wild River – a beautiful if gruelling reflection on grief following the loss of her father. It’s different to the music she made in previous bands Chumped and Katie Ellen, but it still feels like an honest portrait of emotion.
Broadly speaking, Pyle gives me hope for the endurance of songwriting that makes you feel stuff in your chest. More specifically, my favourite song on the album, “Blame,” is hopeful in a realistic sort of way. “I’m doing the best I can with the hand that I’ve dealt myself,” Pyle sings, as her voice nestles among hushed strumming, gentle harmonies, and an acknowledgement of the fact that it isn’t always easy to move on. As we heave ourselves out of the last year and back into the world, I don't know. It just rings true for me. – Lauren O’Neill.
ICEÈ TGM – ‘IMAGINE’
Throwback, 2000s era pop? Vibes upon vibes upon vibes? People having fun, abroad? What’s not to like?? You can’t have a holiday right now, but you can live vicariously through Iceè tGM’s debut music video “Imagine”, where the British artist and her girls head on a lads holiday to Turkey, in a clip shot by one of the UK’s most in-demand directors: Teeezy C. As Iceè the Godmother suggests: grab the Ciroc, grab the gelato and have yourself a good time. The super-smooth energy is palpable on this one. — Ryan Bassil.