The 15 Best Songs of July 2021

Featuring The War on Drugs, Caroline Polachek, Deafheaven and more

Music Lists Best Songs
The 15 Best Songs of July 2021

Like a star in the sky, a song can be beautiful all on its own, but is particularly breathtaking when it’s surrounded by others. In surveying the standout tracks of July, it’s felt a bit like the Paste Music team was staring upward, squinting to see which individual pieces of the countless constellations above shined the brightest. But you didn’t come here for celestial metaphors—you came for the month’s best songs, and that’s exactly what you’ll get in a second, from our first preview of the new War on Drugs record and Caroline Polachek’s first new single of 2021 to one of Deafheaven’s latest rippers and much more. See and hear all of Paste Music’s top July tracks below.

Listen to our Best Songs of July 2021 playlist on Spotify here.

Caroline Polachek: “Bunny Is a Rider”

Caroline Polachek’s otherworldly presence has made her one of pop’s most intriguing figures, first as co-founder of the synth-pop outfit Chairlift, and now as a solo act. Her 2019 debut Pang was a stunner, making our list of the best pop albums of that year. This week, Polachek returned with her first original piece of music since then, “Bunny Is a Rider.” The single is a sonic departure from Polachek’s dreamy, introspective indie-pop as she veers into spicier territories. Deep bass provided by producer Danny L Harle and whistles transport listeners into a Caribbean paradise as Polachek reflects on operating untethered to anyone or anything. In a statement, Polachek elaborates on her new track: “‘Bunny Is a Rider’ is a summer jam about being unavailable. Bunny is slippery, impossible to get ahold of. Maybe it’s a fantasy, maybe it’s a bad attitude. But anyone can be Bunny, at least for three minutes and 17 seconds.” —Jade Gomez

Cheekface: “Next To Me (Yo Guy Version)”

Los Angeles rockers Cheekface are keeping the Cheek Freaks fed, sharing another new single Tuesday, “Next to Me (Yo Guy Version).” The band has a U.S. tour set for the fall in support of their acclaimed sophomore album Emphatically No., and this is the second single they’ve released since their record’s release in January, after April’s “We Need a Bigger Dumpster.” As is typical of Cheekface tunes, “Next to Me (Yo Guy Version)” has a broken heart and tongue in cheek both—Greg Katz evokes that bittersweetness right off the bat, starting the first verse, “My heart has hiccups, there’s no relief.” Upbeat guitar riffage, cowbell and a repeated Pavement reference buoy Katz’s rueful remembrances of his departed friend (“I liked it better when you were standing next to me”), with a rad guitar solo to top it all off. That’s Cheekface for you—they just have this way of putting a smile on your face. —Scott Russell

Deafheaven: “The Gnashing”

Continuing their reinvention from some of the heaviest post-metal of the 2010s to still-gnarly, moody rock music, Deafheaven don’t lose an ounce of what made them so initially mighty and often controversial on new single “The Gnashing.” Uniquely catchy for Deafheaven, George Clarke’s melodic vocals, though sung rather than screamed, lose none of their effect, sounding massive alongside the roaring guitars and pounding drums. “The Gnashing” certainly resembles the band’s typically aggressive style more so than previous single “Great Mass of Color,” but through its emotionally urgent and reflective atmosphere, Deafheaven continue to amaze. —Jason Friedman

Grouper: “Unclean mind”

Since the mid-2000s, Liz Harris has channeled her talent for crafting often hard to describe music that floats between ambient, psychedelic and folk into her project, Grouper. Tuesday (July 27), she announced the follow-up to her 2018 album Grid of Points, simply titled Shade. Alongside the announcement arrived single “Unclean Mind,” which finds Harris’s inimitably airy and hushed voice melting into her acoustic guitar strumming, with harmonies that feel almost like they’re glowing around the whole thing. Immensely lush and immersive, the track carries with it the almost ethereal quality that makes Grouper’s music consistently hit like an emotional sledgehammer. —Jason Friedman

Gustaf: “Book”

Brooklyn art-punk troupe Gustaf have made some strong waves despite releasing very little music, owing in no small part to their robust, electric, post-punk-inspired sound that recalls at times ESG or Lizzy Mercier Descloux. On new single “Book,” the latest ahead of their debut album for Royal Mountain Records, Audio Drag For Ego Slobs, the group sound like they’ve spent years perfecting the genre, delivering an energetic and captivating blend of Lydia Gammill’s frantic vocals, groovy bass and tight drums. “Book” feels simultaneously new and classic, boasting a songwriting maturity that only builds hype for the band’s forthcoming full-length. —Jason Friedman

Hovvdy: “True Love”

The lead single and title track from Hovvdy’s new album due out Oct. 1, “True Love” debuted on Tuesday along with a video. True Love, the Austin, Texas duo’s fourth LP and Grand Jury debut, was co-produced by Andrew Sarlo (Bon Iver, Big Thief) and recorded at Sarlo’s Los Angeles studio throughout 2020—in a time when their music’s open-hearted sweetness was most needed. Hovvdy are a long way from their DIY bedroom-pop beginnings on “True Love,” a lush, acoustic guitar- and piano-driven tune with gentle, but firm touches of cosmic Americana. In the interval since their 2019 album Heavy Lifter, Charlie Martin and Will Taylor both married their partners, and Taylor had a child. All that love is a precious gift, but also a huge responsibility: “You comfort me, Rosy,” they harmonize, repeating in the swirling outro, “Do you believe what I said / That I am the man I say I am?” “For each Hovvdy record there’s always been a song that kinda shocks my system, kinda jolts me into a brand new and inspired place. This was definitely that song for me,” Martin said of “True Love” in a statement. “I remember writing it and feeling a rush of excitement—crying a lot honestly. it feels so good to express love and appreciation when you really fucking mean it. but it’s hard to feel worthy of love, of something so rare, and all we can do is try to measure up—that’s what that last part is all about.” —Scott Russell

Indigo De Souza: “Hold U”

Following the excellent single “Kill Me” ahead of her forthcoming album on Saddle Creek Any Shape You Take, Indigo De Souza holds onto the momentum that led Paste to call that track one of our favorites of June with new single “Hold U.” Starting with only a drum machine and an organ, the energetic and funky track builds to a cathartic conclusion with De Souza’s voice acting as a sonic and emotional guide. Each element, down to the sensitive and headstrong lyrics, feel vivacious and brimming with character, which only makes us more excited to hear what new feelings Any Shape You Take will find the songwriting exploring and revealing within the listener. —Jason Friedman

Penelope Isles: “Sailing Still”

Indie-rock group Penelope Isles have been pretty quiet since the release of their lush and electric debut album Until The Tide Creeps In in 2019, but on new single “Sailing Still,” they prove that time has been spent maturing and evolving as songwriters. Complex string arrangements and heavy guitars drop like an anvil, feeling like a noise-pop avalanche has made contact. It’s hard to successfully pull off a song that makes such dynamic use of space—especially within the format Penelope Isles is used to—but they pull it off with the effortless brilliance of bands like Grizzly Bear or Beach House. —Jason Friedman

Remi Wolf: “Liquor Store”

Hot off her forthcoming debut full-length album (which is good), Remi Wolf offers another fixture in her vibrant funhouse with “Liquor Store.” The song, which is Wolf’s reflection on her sobriety, captures the stress and subsequent euphoria of newfound sobriety with a sprinkle of her psychedelic funk mixed with R&B. With 2020 behind us and 2021 acting as an optimistic year full of change and excitement, “Liquor Store” is a reminder that it’s okay to bare it all. —Jade Gomez

TORRES: “Thirstier”

TORRES’ Thirstier was recently named one of our favorite albums of July, and it’s easy to see why. Her soaring melodies and passionate vocals evoke that same familiar comfort of listening to Bruce Springsteen. On the album’s title track, TORRES, real name Mackenzie Scott, crafts carefully written tales of love and heartache over dynamic production that boils into heartland rock-inspired choruses. Partially inspired by her love story with partner Jenna Gribbon (who is featured in the “Don’t Go Puttin’ Wishes In My Head” video), Scott reflects on experiencing love and happiness in their purest states on “Thirstier.” —Jade Gomez

TOBi & Mick Jenkins: “Off the Drugs”

Nigerian-Canadian rapper TOBi’s latest single “Off the Drugs” will probably give you a contact high, enlisting Chicago’s own Mick Jenkins for his jazzy, monotone flow that captures the essence of life’s vices in all their variety. However, contrary to a lot of other artists who deal with drugs, the two expand beyond the physical, touching on getting high off love, weed and liquor. The smooth horns mimic TOBi’s passionate croon, perfect for belting as the summer barbecues edge into the night. Jenkins’ impeccable grasp of language breaks open each word into their individual syllables as he reflects on smoking alone and experiencing love with liquor. Make no mistake, this is not a track riddled with guilt and regret. Rather, it is an ode to unlocking creativity through the usage of these substances, seeking to destigmatize and promote the universal feeling of relaxation. —Jade Gomez

Turnstile: “BLACKOUT”

So far, this has been Turnstile’s summer with the release of their surprise EP TURNSTILE LOVE CONNECTION, quickly followed by a billboard announcing their forthcoming album Glow On (Aug. 27, Roadrunner Records) alongside a spectacular single, “Alien Love Call,” featuring Blood Orange. Wednesday (July 28), the band shared their latest single “Blackout,” only a month shy of their highly anticipated follow-up to 2018’s Time & Space. “Blackout” is a faithful return to the Baltimore band’s hardcore roots, with frontman Brendan Yates’ soaring vocals colliding with explosive guitars accented with power-pop riffs that beg to be replayed. After a false end, the band reconvenes into a hair-raising breakdown that older fans are sure to love. The accompanying animated music video is a hazy dream sequence of silhouettes materializing out of shapes. —Jade Gomez

The War on Drugs: “Living Proof”

The War on Drugs are back with another one of Paste’s most-anticipated 2021 albums, announcing that their fifth studio LP I Don’t Live Here Anymore will be released Oct. 29 on Atlantic Records. The announcement was accompanied by the video for lead single and opening track “Living Proof,” as well as a 2022 tour of North America and Europe in support of the band’s new record. “Living Proof” leads with acoustic guitar and gleaming keys, with Adam Granduciel delivering his stream-of-consciousness lyrics with a poignance befitting some of his most personal songwriting to date—“I’m always changing,” he repeats, the song’s only constant as he moves from memory to expectation and back again. The song is a slow burn that doesn’t muster The War on Drugs’ typical guitar-driven energy until late in the game: “But I’m rising / And I’m damaged / Oh, rising,” he sings at its peak, evoking what a press release says is the album’s central concept: “resilience in the face of despair.” —Scott Russell

Yves Tumor: “Secrecy Is Incredibly Important To The Both of Them”

The only and only Yves Tumor surprise-released a new EP Thursday, The Asymptotical World, via Warp Records. The six-track offering follows (and features) “Jackie,” one of Paste’s top June tracks, and is the artist’s first record since their 2020 standout album Heaven to a Tortured Mind. Like “Jackie” before it, the EP finds Tumor blending psych-rock, neo-soul, post-punk and synth-pop sounds into a musical kaleidoscope with the force of a vortex. London/Berlin industrial dance duo NAKED are featured on “Tuck,” but it’s “Secrecy Is Incredibly Important To The Both of Them” that stands out most—its drums race like a heart near bursting, punctuated by dark-wave guitars as Tumor questions, “How can I miss you if you won’t go away?” —Scott Russell

ZelooperZ: “Bash Bandicoon” ft. Danny Brown

Detroit rapper ZelooperZ is ever-changing, effortlessly shifting between introspective slow burns and disorienting club bangers. On his latest album Van Gogh’s Left Ear, Zelooperz takes listeners into the Willy Wonka nightmare tunnel of his mind. Album standout “Bash Bandicoon,” featuring de-facto Bruiser Brigade Records leader Danny Brown, is a lesson in anxiety, captured over a Crash Bandicoot loop. The two emcees share a magnetic charisma that manages to momentarily distract you from the auditory madness ensuing in the background. As ZelooperZ continues to develop his artistry with each release, he continues to test his limitations, jumping over one of the highest hurdles: retro videogame soundtrack samples. —Jade Gomez

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