The year draws to an end in the Northwest, a snow-covered, frozen winter land. The days are short and the nights are long. For indigenous peoples, it’s a time to reflect, feast, and pass on our culture and traditions through stories and music to new generations, well into the night and often around a fire. We do so because those stories and music are timeless. They carry our values, voices, and experience. They are who we are.
Looking back on 2021, it seems that the music that I listened to the most were songs that took me away from the daily ordeal of the all-consuming pandemic. The songs I chose for my best-of list were the songs that I listened to them again and again while walking along the Green River every evening with Lovey, our family dog.
These songs meant security. They were reassuring, perhaps because they are rooted in the sounds of the past, like the songs by Aaron Frazer, Celeste, Valerie June, Helado Negro, and Laufey. Or perhaps because they were created by veteran performers like James, Kevin Whelan (Aeon Station) of the Wrens, Dinosaur Jr., Spiritualized, and Robert Smith of the Cure, all of whom have been around in one form or another since the 80’s or even the 70’s.
There aren’t too many loud songs on the list, just one banger by Bloc Party and two slightly less frenzied songs Pays P. and the Hold Steady. I think that reflects the somber mood that hung over much of the year. But, despite the pandemic, it feels great to see so much wonderful and resoundingly beautiful music from so many artists. I’m glad as always to be able to include a couple of indigenous gems from Ya Tseen and Mumu Fresh. Some songs are just pure joy, like Aaron Frazer’s “Ride with Me”, Spiritualized’s “Always Together With You”, and Beach House’s “Superstar”. Some reflect the turmoil of 2020 and early 2021 like James’ “All the Colours of You”, a biting commentary on American politics, and the super energetic “Work” by Mumu Fresh. I was also so grateful to listen to the amazing new talent in Laufey (from Iceland) and Wet Leg (England). And some songs simply reflect the power of artists at the top of their game, like Sharon Van Etten, Angel Olsen, and Celeste. I can’t imagine what 2021 would have been like with them, and the rest of great artists on this list.
Roberto Lange (Helado Negro) sings on “La Naranja” that, “You and I can stop time. You and I can save the world together.” His words perfectly encapsulate the feeling that despite the challenges and fears we faced in 2021, we are still in this together, we remain deeply bound to one another, and there is hope.
I hope you enjoy these songs as much as I do.
Chris’s Best Music of 2021 Playlist
- Always Together With You – Spiritualized
- Like I Used To – Sharon Van Etten and Angel Olsen
- Ride With Me – Aaron Frazer
- All the Colours of You – James
- Perennial Bloom (Back To You) – Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real
- Superstar – Beach House
- Hear My Voice – Celeste
- Fade – Aeon Station
- Let You Break My Heart Again – Laufey
- Family Farm – The Hold Steady
- Knives – Ya Tseen (featuring Portugal The Man)
- How Not To Drown – Chvrches & Robert Smith
- Call Me a Fool – Valerie June (feat. Carla Thomas)
- La Naranja – Helado Negro
- Garden – Dinosaur, Jr.
- Chaise Longue – Wet Leg
- Work – Mumu Fresh
- Vassili Voir – Pays P.
- Holding On Too Long – Hard Feelings
- Traps – Bloc Party
- Minari Suite – Emile Mosseri
Chris Stearns is an Auburn resident and music lover. Though also an Auburn City Councilmember, this Op-Ed does not reflect the opinions of the Auburn City Council, City of Auburn or any City of Auburn Employee.