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10 Best Indian Singles of 2021

Songs of young love, sing-along punk and resolute hip-hop made their mark this year

Hanumankind, Sunflower Tape Machine, Vasundhara Vee, The Lightyears Explode and more find their way into our Best Indian songs of 2021.

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10. Krishna.K, AKR – “Butterflies”

Chennai singer-songwriter Krishna.K and composer-producer Anniroodh Kumararaja aka AKR’s first collaboration together “Butterflies” provides that (still) much-needed escapism with a breezy, old-school pop arrangement. Anchored in Krishna’s saccharine croons for the most part, he starts off with the lines: “A thousand butterflies could fly us away on a chariot of gold through the mystic galaxy.” AKR’s swirling keyboard sections add to the airy nature of a simple yet charming song, one that strengthens Krishna’s vocal style. – A.T.

9. Albatross – “The Neptune Murders”

If any metal band in India can lay claim on being genius storytellers, it’s Mumbai heavy metallers Albatross. Straight from the mind of bassist and lyricist Dr. Hex aka Riju Dasgupta, their single “The Neptune Murders” squared polished, resounding rhythms with vocalist Biprorshee Das’ signature snarl and operatic treatment. The tale of a serial killer who’s not only got a fetish for cheeks but also enchanted by the Roman texts of the sea god Neptune unfolds with severity, matching the crushing melodic force distinctive to Albatross for more than a decade now. – A.T.

8. Adrian D’souza, Neuman Pinto – “Never Let it Go”

Seasoned Mumbai-based drummer Adrian D’souza and singer-songwriter Neuman Pinto teamed up for an R&B/jazz offering entitled “Never Let it Go.” D’souza’s simple and on-the-beat drumming sits perfectly on a track that features melodic synths and keys, a bouncy bassline, effervescent vocals and more. The track takes the listener to a peaceful and happy place as the duo’s varied musical styles come across quite well on the song. – D.B.

7. Karshni – “daddy hates second place”

Pune singer-songwriter Karshni Nair (who goes by her first name) released quite the ditty in 2021. The hauntingly beautiful “daddy hates second place” features delicate percussive brushes as well as an emotional piano melody, with the artist singing magnificently about a father who expects too much from his offspring. – D.B.

6. Jaden Maskie – “Rhythm Of My Heart”

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Goa-based singer-songwriter Jaden Maskie’s sublime single “Rhythm Of My Heart” falls in the pop category while the artist also adds in a variation of R&B styles that flow through the track. The polished song also features Maskie’s refined vocals and mature production skills as well as catchy melodies and sing-along sections. – D.B.

5. Swarathma – “Dus Minute Aur”

Show us someone whose sleep cycles haven’t been disrupted by pandemic-related lockdowns and we’ll show you a privileged class. Bengaluru folk-rockers Swarathma have only recently resumed their touring ways, which meant it was back to early mornings and late gig nights for the band. Over blazing rock-meets-disco funk excursions, guitarist Varun Murali’s incendiary riffs find a worthy match in frontman Vasu Dixit’s vocal theatrics. Violinist Sanjeev Nayak weighs in during a grandiose drop as well. At the end of it, like Swarathma’s best work, there’s a mindful message about the importance of sleep and how it’s okay for us to escape into our dream worlds. – A.T.

4. The Lightyears Explode – “Nostalgia 99”

Mumbai band The Lightyears Explode have continued dancing in their newfound pop shoes after last year’s EP Mellow, with the release of their bubbly single “Nostalgia 99.” The track includes a disco meets pop meets retro sound while The Lightyears also throw in their punk and rock elements too. “Nostalgia 99” opens with synths and frantic soundscapes while pumping drums, tight bass grooves from Shalom Benjamin and guitar embellishments run through. Frontman Saurabh Roy’s spiraling vocal delivery and catchy melodies make you want to sing along. – D.B.

3. Hanumankind – “Genghis”

Bengaluru hip-hop’s mercurial force Hanumankind is past underrated and definitely way past underground. The last two years earned him plenty of plaudits and “Genghis” is enough proof why. Over a determined beat made by producer Kalmi, the rapper goes from talking about growing up and how to “embrace your chaos let it seep into your senses,” but the real punches arrive with his acerbic take down of India’s law and order abuse, party politics, influential peers who refuse to use their platform. On these fronts, Hanumankind is resolute in his fight. “They try and dig their nails in me, but I’m filing ‘em short/They try and dig my grave for me but I fight as a corpse,” he says. – A.T.

2. Sunflower Tape Machine – “Sophomore Sweetheart”

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Chennai artist Aryaman Singh aka Sunflower Tape Machine’s dreamy offering “Sophomore Sweetheart” is an upbeat song that instantly catches your attention with its very groovy bassline and syncopated drum pattern. Add to it the underlying guitar, tasty electronic elements, Singh’s intriguing vocal melodies and production, and you have quite the earworm. Lyrically, the track is about a couple that had plans to go to their homecoming dance. – D.B.

1. Vasundhara Vee – “Run”

In the first 30 seconds of her solo debut, singer-songwriter Vasundhara Vee scales vocal highs and modulates her inimitable soul voice in a unique way. As an artist who’s provided vocal training for several voices over the years, Vasundhara has clearly waited to make her own moves. With the slickly crafted, emphatic “Run,” no stone is left unturned, sonically or visually. Emerging as the powerful (and mindful) pop artist that we always wanted, “Run” clearly marks just the beginning of a new chapter in the singer’s career; and it’s sure going to be a page-turner. – A.T.

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