Ear Traffic’s top tracks of 2021: The Local 20 and the HI-35


(Photo of James McMurtry by Nicole Berlin Photography)


In my ranking of my 10 favorite albums of 2021 (for historians, Ear Traffic’s first year-end album ranking), I mentioned how difficult it was to narrow it down to 10. That went doubly so for these two traditional year-end track listings: The Ear Traffic Local of the 20 best tracks by Austin artists, and the HI-35, my 35 favorite tracks of the year from anywhere on the planet (or, for inclusivity, other planets, if that were ever to happen).

I enjoyed, quite literally, hundreds of songs in 2021, perhaps even triple digits more than I typically enjoy. There was maybe a passing thought of doubling the HI-35 to the Top 71 to accommodate so many standout tracks while staying true to this blog’s occasionally adhered-to “Austin traffic shit” theme.

But in all candor, I enjoy this as well. The challenge of picking your annual favorites with a relatively small number of available spots requires some mental legwork and self-second-guessing, but it’s also a geek-out for me each year. At the end of the d – I mean, year, it’s just, like, my opinion, man.

So here we are. First, the locals (which, as always, were also eligible for the HI-35). At the end of each list, you’ll find its embedded Spotify playlist (not in ranked order) for you to shuffle through my picks. Lastly, of course, a heartfelt happy New Year, readers.

Ear Traffic Local 20 for 2021
20. Magna Carda feat. Cara Bishop, “Spark the Day”
19. Hovvdy, “True Love”
18. Dayglow, “Moving Out”
17. Molly Burch, “Control”
16. Riders Against the Storm, “The Ones”
15. A. Sinclair, “Evening Light”
14. Kydd Jones & BoomBaptist feat. Fat Tony, “What You Mean”
13. Heartless Bastards, “When I Was Younger”
12. Troy Nōka, “Naughty”
11. William Maxwell, “Drifted”
10. Semihelix, “Will It Take”
9. Sarah and the Sundays, “Take Your Time”
8. James McMurtry, “Canola Fields”
7. Sasha and the Valentines, “I See the Light”
6. Go Fever, “FYI”
5. Darkbird, “Heartbeat”
4. Danny Golden, “I Can’t Change”
3. Kendra Sells, “Wondering//Bad Doctors”
2. Spoon, “The Hardest Cut”
1. James McMurtry, “The Horses and the Hounds”

The 2021 Ear Traffic HI-35
35. Halsey, “The Lighthouse”
34. Big Thief, “Certainty”
33. Lana Del Rey, “Dark But Just a Game”
32. City Girls, “Twerkulator”
31. JDM Global, “Cake”
30. Billie Eilish, “Happier Than Ever”
29. JAWNY, “Take It Back”
28. Noname, “Rainforest”
27. Japanese Breakfast, “Paprika”
26. Peacers, “Ghost of a Motherfucker”
25. Magdalena Bay, “Secrets (Your Fire)”
24. Polo G, “RAPSTAR”
23. Cardi B, “Up”
22. War on Drugs feat. Lucius, “I Don’t Live Here Anymore”
21. Kacey Musgraves, “breadwinner”
20. Hannah Jadagu, “Think Too Much”
19. Ethel Cain feat. lil aaron, “Michelle Pfeiffer”
18. Olivia Rodrigo, “brutal”
17. Billie Eilish, “Oxytocin”
16. Shame, “Nigel Hitter”
15. Faye Webster, “I Know I’m Funny haha”
14. girl in red, “Serotonin”
13. Amyl and the Sniffers, “Security”
12. Acid Dad, “BBQ”
11. James McMurtry, “The Horses and the Hounds”
10. girl in red, “I’ll Call You Mine”
9. Sharon van Etten/Angel Olsen, “Like I Used To”
8. Snail Mail, “Valentine”
7. Mdou Moctar, “Asdikte Akal”
6. Unknown Mortal Orchestra, “That Life”
5. Holly Humberstone, “The Walls Are Way Too Thin”
4. Amyl and the Sniffers, “Hertz”
3. Billy Nomates, “Heels”
2. Wet Leg, “Wet Dream”
1. Parquet Courts, “Walking at a Downtown Pace”