The 15 Best Songs of October 2021

Featuring Mitski, Spoon, Anjimile and more

Music Lists Best Songs
The 15 Best Songs of October 2021

You know you’re getting old when you’re glad Halloween happened on a Sunday because you have an excuse to leave the party early and everything aches a little bit when it gets cold. You know you’re really old when you remember daylight savings time ends, unless you’re like me and you think there was a glitch in the matrix. In any case, as we say goodbye to October and say hello to November, we made sure you don’t forget one thing: SONGS. We got better variety than the old lady with those nasty hard candies down the block. Animal Collective’s hefty “Prester John” pairs wonderfully with a side dish of Real Lies’ silky “Since I.” Paste also is giving out some tracks by Big Thief, Mitski and more. Take them all, we won’t get mad. Make sure you share, turn your clocks back this weekend and wear a thermal while you revisit some of the songs that made October particularly awesome, courtesy of Paste.

Animal Collective: “Prester John”

Nature is healing. Animal Collective (not to be confused with the pandemic-saving game franchise Animal Crossing) have announced their forthcoming album, Time Skiffs, out Feb. 4, 2022, via Domino. The album arrives six years after 2016’s Painting With. The album is accompanied by lead single “Prester John,” a kaleidoscopic fever dream sitting at just over six minutes. Part indie rock, part jazz, the song is an exercise in patience as it grows with steady drums and harmonies. The track was conceived by weaving together two songs, one written by Avey Tare and another written by Panda Bear. —Jade Gomez

Anjimile: “Stranger”

Anjimile Chithambo, known as Anjimile, has announced his signing to London-based independent label 4AD. The Dallas, Texas-born folk artist joins a powerful roster featuring some Paste favorites such as Big Thief, Deerhunter and The National. On Oct. 19, Anjimile shared “Stranger,” a powerful single to mark his debut on the legendary label. The gorgeous plucks of the guitar mesh into lush keys as Anjimile reassures, “I’m not a monster anymore.” Layered harmonies grow with each verse before making way for muffled percussion. The song explodes into horns and more percussion, airy background vocals and hopeful keys as it transforms from somber to optimistic. It’s a heartwarming exploration of gender, identity and change. —Jade Gomez

Arca: “Born Yesterday”

Venezuelan artist Arca has been one of the most sought-after producers and collaborators around since 2014’s Xen. Her erratic and abstract compositions have taken on lives of their own, resulting in production credits with everyone from Kanye West to Björk. Today (Oct. 4), she announces the follow-up to 2020’s KiCk i titled KICK ii (Dec. 3, XL Recordings). The albums are part of Arca’s ongoing KiCk series. Alongside the album announcement comes the new single “Born Yesterday,” featuring Sia. Sia’s instantly recognizable vocals shapeshift over Arca’s textured production, which ebbs and flows, mimicking the flicks of insect wings with house-inspired drums. It manages to capture the euphoria of ‘90s diva house with an eccentric palette, utilizing each others’ vision to create something magical. —Jade Gomez

Big Thief: “Change”

Though Big Thief have yet to announce a new album, their current string of singles, which also includes “Little Things,” “Sparrow” and “Certainty,” suggests that the follow-up to 2019’s U.F.O.F. and Two Hands is somewhere up Big Thief’s sleeves. Previewed during the band’s September Pitchfork Music Festival set, “Change” radiates wisdom and inner peace, gently suggesting (without insisting) that life’s evanescence is essential to its meaning. “Would you live forever, never die / While everything around passes? / Would you smile forever, never cry / While everything you know passes?” Lenker asks over acoustic strums and minimalist low end, with Meek’s electric guitar and hardly noticeable synths sneaking occasionally into the mix. The band’s unassuming instrumentation only amplifies the song’s core concept, which manages to imbue even death itself with a sense of wondrous possibility: “Death / Like a door / To a place / We’ve never been before.” —Scott Russell

Black Country, New Road: “Chaos Space Marine”

Black Country, New Road rung in 2021 with the release of their debut album For the first time, becoming critical darlings all over the world. Tuesday (Oct. 12), they went two for two with the announcement of their forthcoming album Ants From Up There, set for release on Feb. 4, 2022, via Ninja Tune. Alongside the announcement came the aptly titled single “Chaos Space Marine,” which is, well, chaotic. Guitars and strings clash and rise together in beautiful, dissonant bliss, proving Black Country, New Road are at the forefront of ushering in a new era of experimental music. Speaking of the recording of the album over the summer, bassist Tyler Hyde said, “We were just so hyped the whole time. It was such a pleasure to make. I’ve kind of accepted that this might be the best thing that I’m ever part of for the rest of my life. And that’s fine.” —Jade Gomez

Eartheater: “Scripture”

Rising art-pop star Eartheater (born Alexandra Drewchin) has a way of making otherworldly music, but her latest single “Scripture” is built on an emotion that will hit you wherever you live. Drewchin says the track is about “the feeling that I had surmounted some kind of huge mountain in my life that I’d been climbing for years … feeling very validated and rewarded in trusting my ‘stars’ after following my heart, for years, down my very unorthodox and uncertain, risky path.” The song doesn’t lord this triumph over you, but rather invites you in to share it: “How did you find me? / Yes, I’ve been hiding,” Drewchin begins, her singular vocals splayed across a celestial synth figure that’s later joined by a deep-impact bass drum thump. “Scripture / I’m painting my own picture,” she repeats in the chorus, adding a dozen-odd syllables to the end of each line, as if basking in the fulfillment of her destiny. You best believe in Eartheater. —Scott Russell

Hana Vu: “Gutter”

It’s no secret Paste is into Los Angeles-based songwriter Hana Vu, whose previous singles “Keeper” and “Maker” have also graced the pixels of our recent best new songs lists. With only days to go until the release of her debut album Public Storage (Nov. 5, Ghostly International), Vu shared its latest single, “Gutter.” “Gutter” is the heaviest song on the album, with fuzzy guitars and feedback resting under Vu’s rich voice. It’s an homage to shoegaze and grunge, departing from her brighter sound palette with darker, more melancholy textures. —Jade Gomez

Hand Habits: “Gold/Rust”

Before it was the penultimate track on Fun House, Meg Duffy’s acclaimed new album as Hand Habits, “Gold/Rust” briefly appeared on the artist’s Bandcamp Friday single room in the sun, released in May 2020. Though Duffy says the song had “a very feathery, slow, watery feel to it initially,” the Fun House version has much earthier textures, with Duffy’s acoustic guitar riff and Griffin Goldsmith’s percussion imbuing the track with an insistent energy. Duffy evokes neglect and detachment with lyrics like “Everything covered in rust / You were too afraid to touch,” with a romanticized veneer soon obfuscating that decay (“Now everything’s covered in gold”). From there, the song’s unusual arrangement is on full display as it moves from its two verses into an extended outro, as if to mimic the contrast between its titular patinas. Duffy’s full-throated vocals and lead electric guitar squalls convey the song’s emotional stakes, but eventually you’re left with only their voice in one ear and an acoustic guitar in the other, with SASAMI’s synths fizzing as if to corrode any remaining false nostalgia. —Scott Russell

Lotic: “Always You”

“Always You” is the third single from J’Kerian Morgan’s forthcoming second album as Lotic, Water (Oct. 29, Houndstooth), following “Emergency” and “Come Unto Me.” The Houston-born, Berlin-based and Björk-approved experimental club artist juxtaposes the meditative and the anxiety-inducing to positively hypnotic effect on their latest track, stretching out their wavering, lovesick vocals (“I know I’ve tried / to move on, to be strong / but it’s always you / always you”) over pulse-accelerating double-time bass and a looped whoop that unnerves as much as it energizes. Ethereally industrial electronics and sprinkled-in harp plucks evoke the haunting and heavenly alike throughout “Always You,” with Morgan, the object of their obsession, and a rapt audience at the center of it all. —Scott Russell

Mitski: “Working for the Knife”

Mitski Miyawaki, the singer/songwriter mononymously known as Mitski, is back with her first proper new material in over three years. Produced by Mitski’s longtime collaborator Patrick Hyland, “Working for the Knife” is a striking track that’s reminiscent of David Bowie’s “Cat People (Putting Out Fire),” beginning with a dark synth and drum machine drone that eventually gives way to an outpouring of glossy, carefully layered rock. Mitski’s distinctive tenor vocals sit at the nexus of porcelain keys, whammied waves of electric guitar distortion and jangling acoustic chords, but it’s her soul-baring lyricism that stands out from it all. She recounts a creative journey filled with disappointment and frustration, closely examining her relationship with “the knife”—perhaps a symbolic means of opening herself up to show the world what’s inside, turning pain into art. She looks back on aspirations her life has since upended, and even seems to acknowledge her hiatus from music (“I always knew the world moves on / I just didn’t know it would go without me”), but it’s the song’s final lines that hit the hardest: “I start the day lying and end with the truth / That I’m dying for the knife.” And isn’t that one of the hardest truths of all, that it’s what we love that kills us? —Scott Russell

Real Lies: “Since I”

Real Lies, the London electronic duo, make synth-pop that you can sink yourself into. Their newest single “Since I” is a journey in itself, bursting into blissful trip-hop drums and techno blips. It’s euphoric, yet somber, capturing the essence of locking eyes in clubs and stoplights that fade into the rearview. It’s as nostalgic as it is futuristic, with a sophisticated U.K. club edge that sets them apart from their contemporaries. —Jade Gomez

Snail Mail: “Ben Franklin”

Snail Mail (Lindsey Jordan) is back with another preview of her much-anticipated second effort Valentine (Nov. 5, Matador), “Ben Franklin.” The new single/video follows Valentine’s lead single, opener and title track, which was released alongside the album’s announcement in September. We highlighted “Valentine” among the month’s best tracks, and have been looking forward to Jordan’s Lush follow-up all year. Where “Valentine” was an (emotionally) explosive rocker, “Ben Franklin” is more slinky and subdued, with bouncy low end and lurking synths setting a compellingly conflicted tone. A rueful Jordan cuts to the core of her intertwined struggles with addiction and heartbreak, singing over pearly keys, “Moved on, but nothing feels true / Sometimes I hate her just for not being you / Post rehab I’ve been feeling so small / I miss your attention / I wish I could call.” Jordan’s vocal performance peaks in the track’s bridge, where her wounded falsetto most vividly conveys her hurt and rejection. “Don’t act like you’ve never met me,” she demands, only for her guilt and shame to return: “I never should’ve hurt you, I’ve got the devil in me.” —Scott Russell

Spoon: “The Hardest Cut”

At long last, Spoon have announced their 10th album, the much-anticipated follow-up to 2017’s acclaimed Hot Thoughts. A press release describes Lucifer on the Sofa, due Feb. 11, 2022, via Matador Records, as “the band’s purest rock ’n‘ roll record to date.” Lead single “The Hardest Cut” is our first preview, out now alongside a music video. Spoon returned to their hometown of Austin, Texas, to record Lucifer on the Sofa, the first time the quintet has done so in over a decade. Frontman Britt Daniel describes the resulting album as “the sound of classic rock as written by a guy who never did get Eric Clapton.” (Zing.) “The Hardest Cut” fits the rock throwback bill, with a staggering, detuned guitar riff at its center. The toe-tapping verses almost have a rockabilly chug to them, yet Spoon break that familiar pattern with unexpected guitar stabs, creating a nervous tension that Daniel stokes further with his (appropriately) apocalyptic lyrics: “It’s comin’ down, the hardest cut / World wars in my mind / Long day into night, the hardest cut / We live on a knife.” —Scott Russell

Strange Ranger: “It’s You”

Strange Ranger have always dabbled in older sounds, whether it be Midwestern emo or folky indie rock. On “It’s You,” however, they abandon all frames of reference for something captivating, disjointed and fresh. Synths and layered harmonies give way to trip-hop with a punk flair that glitches into delicate fuzz. It’s a welcome new direction for a band that have always went their own route. —Jade Gomez

Wiki: “The Business”

Wiki’s irresistible New York flair is in everything he does, but there’s something about “The Business” that turns it up to 11. His slick-talk and classic ad-libs echo back to the early days of New York rap, with scathing lyrics that call out the gentrifiers changing his beloved city. The modern problems juxtaposed against the nostalgic backdrop with warped keys and a light echo of his voice that almost sound like the police sirens that fill the city’s air. Wiki shows New York at its grittiest, and he wants to keep it that way. —Jade Gomez

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