The best rock songs right now

January’s list includes songs from Vagabon, Hand Habits, Viagra Boys, and more.

January 29, 2021
The best rock songs right now (L-R): Viagra Boys, Vagabon, Hand Habits   Fredrik Bengtsson/Tonje Thilesen/Kovi Konowiecki
Vagabon + Courtney Barnett, “Reason to Believe”

Vagabon and Barnett join forces for this heartbreakingly tender cover of Tim Hardin song “Reason To Believe.” Inspired more by the 1966 Karen Dalton version of the song, this 2021 update matches slide guitar with a world weary ache.

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Viagra Boys, “Girls & Boys”

Viagra Boys’ Welfare Jazz is one of the best rock records of this admittedly very new year. Sleazy and romantic in equal measure, this choice cut from the album will have you chanting about dogs, shrimp, and love in no time.

Molly Burch, “Emotion”

Molly Burch teamed up with Wild Nothing for this new song, and the pair have struck on a new musical direction together. Gone are Burch’s jazzy instrumentals and in their place is a cosmic disco sound which provides the backdrop for Burch to spin out as she finds herself in the first flourishes of a new relationship. A hugely exciting change of pace.

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Dvr, “16”

Dvr is a teenager from rural Scotland who dropped his debut EP u can call me dillon earlier this month. The singer-songwriter’s tender balladry calls to mind Randy Newman or perhaps a more modern compatriot like Rex Orange County. The sparse and dreamy “16” captures young love straight from the source.

Charlie Hickey + Phoebe Bridgers, “Ten Feet Tall”

Phoebe Bridgers provides backing vocals to Pasadena songwriter Charlie Hickey’s new song. The pair go way back after Hickey, now 21, covered one of Bridgers’ songs when he was 13 and Bridgers was in high school. In addition to having the indie cred of being an OG Bridgers head, Hickey pedals a nice line in sentimental and woozy indie-pop. “Ten Feet Tall” is heartfelt and bittersweet.

Squid, “Narrator”

Squid’s wildly imaginative and expansive debut album Bright Green Field is due via Warp on May 7. On “Narrator,” the British post-punk band brings in vocalist Martha Skye Murphy to explore the idea of the gendered role of the unreliable storyteller and those he tells stories about.

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The Chisel, “Not The Only One”

The Chisel are an oi! punk band who hail from some of the least glamorous parts of the U.K. imaginable. Blackpool, Croydon, Acton, Chingford, Guildford; these are the types of places where you learn to make the most of the little you have. That spirit shines through the band’s irrepressible new EP Come See Me / Not The Only One, culminating in vocalist Cal singing “We might be down but we’re not fooking out” on this explosive bop.

Cassandra Jenkins, “Hard Drive”

The people around Cassandra Jenkins tell her she seems on edge, gently enquiring as to whether she’s still seeing her therapist. We learn this, among other things about Jenkins, via her spoken word delivery on the mesmeric “Hard Drive.” when she’s not recalling weighty conversations over a jazz-adjacent backdrop, she opens up into sleepy melodies that simply pull you in even closer.

Black Country, New Road, “Track X”

Black Country, New Road take a step to the left of their usual post-punk sound to showcase a more genteel side. “Track X” is filled with strings, elegant vocals, and delicate flourishes. Frontman Isaac Wood remains a playful presence, however, winking as he confesses to some gig-based romance, “I told you I loved you in front of Black Midi.”

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Julien Baker, “Hardline”

Julien Baker recalls a time spent hurtling toward disaster in the latest cut from her upcoming album Little Oblivions. With lines such as “I can see where this is going/But I can't find the brake” it’s clear that “Hardline” comes from a desperate place. However, there’s so much hope in Baker’s voice and arrangement that redemption never feels completely out of reach.

Hand Habits, “4th of July”

Next month (February 19) Meg Baird will release new EP dirt. “4th of July” is the first taste of that project and shows Baird can pick up the pace of her stately songwriting while retaining the soft-hearted nature of their earlier material. Seemingly written for someone with destructive tendencies, “4th of July” is a sympathetic friend for those in need.

Black Button, “Joni Mitchell Birthday Song”

Richmond-based hardcore band Black Button describe their take on the genre as both “artsy and angular,” something that might set-off warning signs if they didn’t pull it off as well as they do. “Joni Mitchell Birthday Song'' is a great way to familiarize yourself with Black Button’s addictive sound while preparing to celebrate another year of a folk legend.

IAN SWEET, “Drink The Lake”

Jilian Medford, who records as IAN SWEET, attempts to break free of a relationship and obsessive thought patterns on the gently distorted “Drink The Lake.” IAN SWEET's new album, Show Me How You Disappear, is out March 5.

Citizen, “I Want To Kill You”

Citizen, due to release new album Life In Your Glass World on March 26, kick off 2021 with a tight, punchy punk song designed to give you a lift. Ignore the macabre title: “I Want To Kill You” is joy personified.

Melt Downer, “Gross White”

Austrian noise band Melt Downer just dropped new album III, a project which explodes into life with “Gross White.” Pacy and relentless, the song collapses around the mid-way point before rallying for yet another charge toward the finish line.

The best rock songs right now