Great Songs From Q3 2021.

steve cuocci
12 min readOct 1, 2021


The summer months came and went with some records dropping that felt like immediate winners for the end of the year list. Where I was a bit burned out last year from spending so much time steeped in music’s endless library, staring deep into an abyss that I would never reach the end of, this year has been a far more potent experience with artists dropping albums and songs that inspire me to want to share their work endlessly, back to the initial spark that made me want to follow, share and be possessed by music in the first place. These last three months bore far more fruit than the ones that preceded it. Here are a few tracks to check out that I felt represented themselves the best. All that’s left is the final march towards the big end of the year list which I can’t wait to share with you all. If you think I missed any songs specifically, let me know. And as the curtain drops, if there are any records you want to make sure I get to hear before the year is through, please hit me up!

Local Natives — Bed Head (Manchester Orchestra Remix) Local Natives have made one of my favorite records with Hummingbird and it’s that record that showcased to me their ability to show restraint and emotional release in ways that don’t beg their fingers into your collar. They wield beautiful light in ways that promise prismatic ratios to coax out the emotion of direct eye contact and whispered words. It’s incredible what they’re able to accomplish, and in this song, they take one of the best songs of the year from one of the best albums to come out in 2021, and turn it inward on itself, remixing in a way that changes it into something to hold in your hands instead of wearing it on your shoulders. (YouTube)

Emmure — Sons of Medusa Have you ever listened to Emmure? Yeah? Okay nice! You know exactly what to expect. Never before? Okay! Now you know what their library sounds like. There is nothing to elaborate on here, nothing new or unique, nothing that will act as a building block towards something immense or interesting. This is exactly what I expect when I see the band Emmure is making music. In a way, it’s a relief that it did precisely, to a T, what the expectation of that transmission was. (YouTube)

Central Heat Exchange — Directly Down (feat. Varsity) A nice calming breeze, a shoddy VHS song. There are a lot of gaze elements at play, crackly drum machine, zapping and zipping synths wildly darting through both channels in the speakers. The way this song is sent off on its own vision quest towards the end, long after the vocals have been put to sleep is a dream, like the instruments got lost in the pedalverse, dynamically shapeshifting and procedurally generating their own neural pathways. (YouTube)

Deafheaven — The Gnashing Deafheaven transformed their shredding and violent desperation into something completely different with their new record. When you would expect them to go in an aggressive direction in any of their songs, they go in an entirely opposite direction, crafting massive chasms and landscapes instead. The band is no stranger to creating enormous music, no ensigns when it comes to terraforming with their unique blend of music. There is a moment on this track about halfway through where it seems we break through a stratosphere of extraordinary space and get released into an antigravity pocket above the planet and reach suspension. There’s something so introspective about the way they strip back a majority of the sound and leave a vacuum for the user to engage not in the music they’ve created, but the cavern instead that they’ve eroded. It’s somewhat brief and the band arrives again in time, but there’s that pulse, that pineal expanse we get to experience which makes Deafheaven the masters of their craft. Their use of ingredients is commanding. (YouTube)

Billie Eilish — NDA Billie’s expertise lies somewhere in the way that she sculpts silence. She lurks in shadows, uninterested in spotlight or grandeur. Her weapon of choice is drama. When I listened to her record, I thought back on it and really couldn’t think of a specific song that I loved, but each and every sound on the record was so deliberate, so calculated. In and of itself, the album is an experience that you can hover through. If you don’t listen to this record intimately on headphones, it has to be loud, it has to be all encompassing. You nearly need to don this music like a cloak, tied tight so not a shred of light can get in. (YouTube)

The Bug — Pressure (feat. Flowdan) This is a deep track that would probably send me into a dense and rhythmic trance if you put me in a dark enough club with a tight enough collection of people, uninhibited by the encroaching world. This is a song that builds the pulse of a room, getting an entire space of people to sync and thrust in unison, to bounce in place to the ritualistic bass. (YouTube)

Vince Staples — TAKE ME HOME (feat. Foushee) Smooth beat, smooth verse, and an interesting vocal feature that billows into a haunting presence towards the end of the track. Just a cool song front to back. In a space where I am not too familiar or even comfortable, it was a refreshing feeling to hear a song from an artist I’ve heard of but rarely heard that I enjoyed. I remember thinking when I was listening to and enjoying this record, “I wonder if it’s better for my own personal open-minded growth that I’m enjoying this song or if it’s worse for Staples’ output that I can actually vibe with it.” (YouTube)

Quicksand — Brushed Quicksand had one of the best albums of the year four years ago and their revival got me to dive back into Slip and Manic Compression a pretty good bit, to really find what made them a seminal band in the post-hardcore scene. This track here has echoes of another band that made a massive splash in the 90s, using the floating neutralization of Sunny Day Real Estate. Where I usually anticipate a bruising and abrasive fuzz from this band, it was a nice change of pace to hear a composed and relaxed approach. (YouTube)

Golden Rules — Never Die (feat. Prefuse 73, Freddie Gibbs, Yasiin Bey) This has a feeling of the type of hip-hop that I absolutely adore. The focus is on the vocals meticulously spit over a dreamy beat. There isn’t any complicated formula here, just rhymes and rhythm. So great, man. Awesome to hear Bey on a track, easily one of the most interesting heads in the game. (YouTube)

Drake — No Friends In the Industry What are you supposed to say about Drake that’s supposed to explain to someone what they don’t already know? His entire new album sounds like his entire old album. As a student of innovation and pushing creative boundaries, I would say that typically recreating a sound you’ve already made is bad, but for an artist as safe and sound as Drake, it’s almost par for the course. A week after Kanye’s album broke the entire mind of the internet, it was nice to see Aubrey bring composure back to the game and settle the waters a bit. Listening to Drake is like buying a Coca-Cola out of a vending machine, man. You already know what it is. If you’re disappointed, that’s your fault. (YouTube)

Turnstile — BLACKOUT I don’t claim this band the way a lot of my people do. I’ve seen people talk about their records for years. I’ve liked them, but never loved them. But man, I am so proud of the way this album hit everyone in such a positive and celebratory way. It seems that the way these songs hit, it came at just a perfect time when people needed a lift. It’s life-affirming to see so many people posting about this record online and getting stoked. Sometimes in hardcore and aggressive music, people like to mean-mug posts and talk about how tough shit is, but I think every time I see people talk about any songs off of this record, they’re doing it through huge smiles. The songs are such anthems, bringing people together in harmony. Shit, this is the friendliest breakdown of all time at the end of this joint. What a blast. God Bless Turnstile. (YouTube)

Halsey — You asked for this It’s impossible to select a song that represents this entire album perfectly. And what’s worse, I got into this record ass backwards, following the canary into the mineshaft and tempting suffocation. When I saw she was making a new record, I was interested in the same way that I was interested in what kind of an impact it would have on the pop world in general, but let’s be real: the deepest dive I have on a Halsey performance is the feature she had on a BTS song. The glow that guided me into this one deeper is the involvement of Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor. When I first got the information that they were involved, I had to do a double-take to see if it was just a single or just a remix. But their fingerprints are littered across the entire record, expressed in different ways from straight pop, fuzz rock and piano ballads. This is the first song that held me suspended in mid-air, filled me with The Answer, and had me spin it a billion times in a row. The low dirge of bass that surges in the deep background of the track hovers like a question you want to ask but can’t find a way to fit it into the conversation. Reznor’s signature phantom-laced guitar that hides and peeks in the underbrush is a silhouette you can’t ignore, just below the mainline grunge guitar that fades and washes out the photograph. The instruments are given the voice that you can find tucked in the background of The Fragile, and Halsey’s voice is the tincture that catalyzes this elixir into something different entirely. There’s a power at work that asserts itself as a certain record that I’ll be talking about when bringing together the greatest records of the year. (YouTube)

Can’t Swim — Deliver Us More Evil As a big fan of Mae’s record Destination Beautiful, I have to say that this song brings me right back to that sound. Somewhat “power pop rock”, upbeat music written with a bit of an edge. The vocals sound like they are subdued in a way that are hitting some kind of glass ceiling without cracking through to a more powerful yell. They’ve released a bunch of singles from this record and they’ve all hit so well. I am looking forward to the release of this one at the end of October. Every bit of it has sounded so promising. (YouTube)

Indigo De Souza — Real Pain What a beautiful song. It opens throughout the first half with such jangly guitar and longing pain, connecting with the listener on a personal level before having an absolute fucking meltdown in the middle of the song, drums churning on, beating out in the background while screams and laughter and schizophrenic release begins to turn the song into a labyrinthine catacomb. And at the other end of the writhing tunnel, we find another upbeat grungy guitar lilt, all sunflowers and converse. There’s an honesty here in the creation of this aural collage, something that feels written in a single sitting, with all of the natural and organic ideas kept on the table and fused together into one portrait. (YouTube)

Little Simz — Miss Understood Shout out to Chris Fusaro for pointing this one out! Right from the jump, the vocal backing of this song gives it a funky feeling, bolstered by the juxtaposition of the Tyler the Creator monotone delivery in the first verse up until the playful singing part returns. I love the simple piano that plinks along throughout the background, building a landscape that perfectly suits the dichotomy of the styles at play. Such a cool track. (YouTube)

Nothing — La La Means I Love You This song was introduced to me through the Jackie Brown soundtrack, with the original Delfonics version playing a fairly prominent role in the film alongside “Didn’t I Blow Your Mind”. This is such an interesting choice for a shoegaze band to cover, especially in this style of a fever dream whiteout. Absolutely love this choice. It might have everything to do with the familiarity with the track and the way that it’s draped in new clothing, being dragged in a new hearse. But I love it. (YouTube)

Employed to Serve — Set In Stone This band has yet to let me down. Absolutely merciless shredding on each of their three records, one after the next going for bigger and bigger stakes. With this newest one it sounds like they’re ready to take on massive arenas and bring the entire roof down. The riffs in this track specifically sound like they were trapped in a breadbox with a cobra, shaken until bloody and then released in a pit fight. There’s a tension here that cannot be counterfeit, almost certainly written at the height of a worldwide pandemic, utterly poised to be unleashed. (YouTube)

John Cxnnor — Red Eye (feat. CABAL and LLNN) Absolute menace. This track marches in as a liquid metal industrial battle march, mechanically roaring through hydraulic vocal cords. It sounds like machinery churning, like factory ambience, like disrupted audio distortion gaining sentience. (YouTube)

Underoath — Pneumonia I honestly can’t believe this is Underoath. Sometimes in a Discover Weekly, a band will come on and it’s clearly not the band I initially liked. Sometimes it’s a russian rapper, sometimes a norwegian house DJ, sometimes a reggaeton producer. But this one didn’t sound different enough to be a different act. After a little digging this is, in fact, the same Underoath that was on top of the world at one point for Hot Topic and scene kids across the world. This song sounds bigger than anything they’ve done before, completely atmospheric and embracing the synths that the band has utilized so poignantly in their past tracks, instead letting a lot of the production and electronics take the forefront. This is a hell of an ambiance, setting the stage for a new record (early next year) that will be a wildly moody return to form for a band that has seemed to take a pretty massive back seat over the past few years. (YouTube)