15 Songs We Almost Missed This Year

At first, Sofia Kourtesis’ “La Perla” unfolds like a Polaroid shot of a white sand beach. It is a serious, pulsating deep house: the ripples of the synths, the oceanic drum loops, the feathery hums, the iridescent touch of the piano keys. But when the Peruvian producer’s voice comes through, the piece becomes something less perfect. “Tú y yo/En soledad/Igual acá/Tratando de cambiar/Tratando de olvidar,” he sings. (“You and Me/Loneliness/Same here/Trying to change/Forgetting.”) Kourtesis composed the song with water and his father dying of leukemia in mind; He used to say that looking at the sea is a form of meditation. Standing somewhere between hope and melancholy, “La Perla” represents mourning: an intermittent work to face your own pain and take advantage of the fleeting moments of solace you can. ISABELIA HERRERA

This eight-minute track from South Africa is a collaboration between singer Young Stunna and amapiano producer Kabza De Small from Young Stunna’s debut album “Notumato (Beautiful Beginnings)”. It takes place slowly and methodically at first with just an electronic beat, then with unusual beats and oscillating electronic tones, followed by vocal syllables with syncopation. Finally, Young Stunna’s lead vocalist arrives, panting and increasingly insistent, tensely pushing her lines out of rhythm. “Adiwele” roughly means “things fall into place”; grateful brag about his current success, but delivered like someone rushing towards even more ambitious goals. JON PARELES

One of the three very good albums BabyTron released in 2021, “Bin Reaper 2” has a few highlights. There’s “Frankenstein,” based on a sample of an old Debbie Deb song, and the disco-like “Pimp My Ride.” But “Paul the Carrier” might be the best. BabyTron is a casually talkative rapper from Michigan and, in keeping with the rap scene that has burgeoned there over the past few years, a funny absurdist, flexible in syllables as well as imagery: “Point to your toes, turn your Yeezys into Foam. Runners,” “Hell on the roof.” so high, it’s dripping like a broken gutter.” JON CARAMANICA

For Colombian artist Mabiland, living with the injustice of anti-Black violence is so surreal that it resembles the world of sci-fi and neo-noir films like “Tenet” and “Oldboy.” In “Wow” he draws comparisons to these cinematic universes and offers a chilling reflection on those killed in recent years: George Floyd and also the five of Llano Verde, a group of young people shot In 2020 in Cali, Colombia. On trap drums and a solitary looping guitar, the artist tunes his voice over and over, alternating between grunting soul, high-pitched barks, injured raps, and soft-spoken songs. It’s a subtle lesson in flexibility, creating an expansive soundscape that captures its pain in all its depth. HERRERA

Remble, one of the most important rap stylists of the year, makes statements such as punching bag emphasis and difficult inner rhymes as if he were giving a physics lesson. Heir to Ruler Drakeo who was killed this month – listen to their collaboration “Ruth’s Chris Freestyle” — Remble is clear and brash, and most importantly, extremely calm. “Touchable,” from the vibrant, great 2021 album “It’s Remble,” is one of its standout tracks and is sweetly full of terrible bragging: “I’ve come a long way from eating pre-K and Lunchables/I just took your life and, as you know, it’s non-refundable.” karamanika

“Don’t Cry,” by Morgan Wade, released at the end of 2020, sums it up right away: “I’ll always be my own worst critic/The world exists and I’m just in it.” From his lovingly weathered debut album “Reckless,” “Wilder Days” is about wanting to know the whole of a person, even the parts that time has corrected. Wade has a terrific, acidic voice – it sounds like he’s singing from the depths of history. And while this song is about asking someone you love to hold onto things that give them scrapes and bruises, it’s actually about holding on to that part of you for as long as possible and then a little bit longer. karamanika

Lady Blackbird’s voice, Los Angeles-based songwriter Marley Munroe, has a deep blues cry that goes back to Nina Simone, Abbey Lincoln, and Billie Holiday. “Collage” from the album “Black Acid Soul” uses an acoustic bass vamp and modal jazz harmonies wrapped in wind chimes and Mellotron “string” chords. Colors, loops and “trying to find a song to sing, that’s all” is an enigmatic and remarkable song. PARELES

“Meu Coco” (“My Head”) is the first full album recorded during the pandemic. Caetano VelosoThe great Brazilian musician, whose career dates back to the 1960s, wrote all the songs without collaborators. “Anjos Tronchos” (“Twisted Angels”) are musically infrequent; For many, only a solo electric rhythm guitar accompanies Veloso’s elegant melody. But its scope is broad; “twisted angels” are from Silicon Valley and sing about the internet’s power to addict, sell and control, as well as enjoy and spread ideas. “My neurons move in a new rhythm/And more and more,” she sings with admiration and fear. PARELES

Outstanding hypnosis of the year. Repeat and leave that cruel year. karamanika

Featuring the title lyrics to Cassandra Jenkins’ 2021 album “An Overview on Phenomenal Nature”, “Hard Drive” plays like Laurie Anderson transports to Laurel Canyon. With leisurely lyrics and the occasional melodic refrain, Jenkins seeks insight and healing from people like the security guard and accountant, telling him “The mind is just a hard drive.” The music calmly loops through a few chords as guitars and piano intertwine, a saxophone improvises in the environment, and Jenkins approaches serenity. PARELES

In “Zandaq,” Fatima Al Qadiri looks back 1400 years to illuminate a perspective on the future. Inspired by the poetry of Arab women from the period of ignorance to the 13th century, the Kuwaiti producer creates a kind of retrofuturistic suite by arranging broken lute strings, echoes of bird sounds and twirl specks, dizzying vocals. The song draws on the ancient reserve of melancholy longing of classical Arabic poetry, taking into account the possibilities that arise by slowing down and sinking into desolation. HERRERA

Emerging UK-based bandleader Nala Sinephro plays harp and electronics, turning to weightless sounds and meditative pacing, hence the comparisons to Alice Coltrane inevitable. But Sinephro has something totally unique: it’s all about the sensual, controlled movement he makes on the harp and the playing versatility of the bands he puts together. His debut album, released in September, contains eight tracks called “Spaces 1-8”. Saxophonist Ahnasé and guitarist Shirley Tetteh accompany him in “Space 5”; It’s a jeweled mosaic of a track with the components of a steady hit – but they’re so far and damp that they’re never fully submerged at body level. Rather than shaking your head, perhaps you will respond to this music by being completely still. GIOVANNI RUSSONELLO

“Moonweed” is only two minutes long but contains all the fantasy and tragedy of a big screen sci-fi drama. (A collaboration between experimental artist Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith and film composer Emilio Mosseri.) With its leisurely piano and the slow roar of galactic synths that sound like an extraterrestrial transmission from the stars, the piece manifests as both earthly and astral bliss. HERRERA

Jazz drummer Johnathan Blake is used to playing as a side musician in all-star bands; While leading their own groups, they also tend to form a formidable roster. In “Homeward Bound”, Blake is joined by alto saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins, vibraphonist Joel Ross, pianist David Virelles and bassist Dezron Douglas—mainly contemporary cats—on his first Blue Note album. Blake has a sense of oscillation that is both extremely powerful and luxuriously spacious, exuding this into a set of impressive original tunes. In the South African folk song “Abioyo,” as he softly beats the drums with a mallet in one hand and a stick in the other, Virelles maintains a similar balance, using the full range of the piano but never playing too much. Russonello

Vertigo alert: Ran Cap Duoi, a Vietnamese electronic band, is aiming for complete disorientation on “Aztec Glue” for their 2021 album “Ngu Ngay Ngay Ngay Tan The” (“Sleeping Through the Apocalypse”). Everything fell apart and scattered: sounds, rhythms, timbres, spatial clues. In its first minute, “Aztec Glue” finds a steady, Minimalist pulse, even as peeking vocal samples bounce all over the stereo field. Then the bottom falls; It wobbles, bumps, races, twitches, and has occasional bursts of acceleration. It continues to find a new, near-equilibrium cycle that spins faster, but it doesn’t end without a few more surprises. PARELES

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