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The music that didn't quite get the love it deserved this year

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

As 2021 comes to a close, the staff at NPR Music has been making a lot of lists - best R&B albums, top 10 classical albums, the best electronic music of 2021, the best albums of any genre - a list that was topped by the singer Jazmine Sullivan this year.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PICK UP YOUR FEELINGS")

JAZMINE SULLIVAN: (Singing) Don't forget to come and pick up your - ooh - feelings. Don't leave no pieces.

SHAPIRO: This week we've been trying to highlight the songs that slipped through the cracks.

(SOUNDBITE OF BLU DETIGER SONG, "VINTAGE")

SHAPIRO: So today we have the sleeper hits, the hidden gems, the songs that didn't quite get the love they deserve this year. I'll turn it over to some of our friends at NPR Music to celebrate the music we missed in 2021.

JOSH ROGOSIN, BYLINE: This is Josh Rogosin, audio engineer for Tiny Desk. The one song I had wished had been on the year-end list was Blu DeTiger's "Vintage" because I am a sucker for a catchy bassline.

(SOUNDBITE OF BLU DETIGER SONG, "VINTAGE")

ROGOSIN: I saw Blu open up for Jungle at The Anthem. That was one of the few shows I'd seen in 2021, and she just blew me away.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "VINTAGE")

BLU DETIGER: (Singing) 'Cause I'm a vintage girl hanging with the flashback kids. I need a vintage boy for my outfit - always holds the door, but I found him in a mosh pit, way too dressed to kill how I feel. You look so good showing up at karaoke night.

CAT SPOSATO, BYLINE: My name is Cat Sposato, and I'm the intern for NPR Music's Alt.Latino podcast. One of my absolute favorite songs of the year had to be "The King" by Sarah Kinsley.

(SOUNDBITE OF SARAH KINSLEY SONG, "THE KING")

SPOSATO: I found it after the intro of the song went viral on TikTok and for a great reason. The song opens up on this beautiful, solitary piano line that surges and swells into this almost symphonic instrumental track.

(SOUNDBITE OF SARAH KINSLEY SONG, "THE KING")

SPOSATO: I love this song because sonically, it feels like something that would have done numbers if the website Tumblr was still big. And Sarah Kinsley's sweet soprano wails on this track are truly enchanting.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE KING")

SARAH KINSLEY: (Singing) We were dancing in the rain, our feet on the pavement. You said I was your second head. I knew exactly what you meant.

SPOSATO: Most importantly, though, her lyrics are a hopeful and beautiful reflection on youth and the empowerment of living in the moment. After the mental toll of the pandemic, it was an absolute delight to hear a track that is this fearlessly excited about living life.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE KING")

KINSLEY: (Singing) I want to be the king of your heart. Let's fall apart and start again. You'll see the end of me.

REANNA CRUZ, BYLINE: Hi. I'm Reanna Cruz, and I'm a production assistant at NPR Music. Now, my favorite album from 2021 that didn't make our final list may come as a shocker to most. However, I'm going to need you to hear me out here. It's the new album from Limp Bizkit, entitled "Still Sucks."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DAD VIBES")

LIMP BIZKIT: (Rapping) Check out your dad with the swag on the floor. Mama going brag when I walk in the door. Y'all ain't never seen a gorilla in the mist walk the line so fine with a blindfold.

CRUZ: Now, I know what you're thinking. I really do love it, though, because even though I wasn't fully of age during the reign of Fred Durst and Co. - I was born in 1999 - I do think I'm a part of the Gen Z clan dedicated to the newfound appreciation and revival of oft-maligned genres like nu metal. The difference between ironic appreciation real-life love, however, is the music being good and the music being fun. And this does it for me.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DAD VIBES")

LIMP BIZKIT: (Rapping) I can get with that. Can't live with them; can't live without them - new kid back on the block with a R.I.P.

CRUZ: "Still Sucks" is a record that you don't have to think too hard for, and that's a good thing. Durst is charmingly self-aware. Wes Borland kills it with the riffs, and that pays off. If you ever sat down and thought, maybe Limp Bizkit isn't that bad, this record is the one for you, and you will not be disappointed.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DAD VIBES")

LIMP BIZKIT: (Rapping) Come and get a sip - la-di-da.

ANN POWERS, BYLINE: I'm Ann Powers, critic and correspondent for NPR Music. My favorite album from 2021 that didn't make our lists is "You, Yeah, You" by the Sacramento-based singer-songwriter Tre Burt.

(SOUNDBITE OF TRE BURT SONG, "FUNNY STORY (SONG FOR EVA)")

POWERS: I love this album for its slyness. The music is jaunty, but the lyrics are thorny, deeply self-aware and sometimes dark.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FUNNY STORY (SONG FOR EVA)")

TRE BURT: (Singing) There ain't no one that can easily how it all started anyway.

POWERS: Tre's voice sounds shaggy and shambolic. But he's thought out every note for maximum effect. This is folk music for a world on edge, and I've returned to it a lot during this roller coaster year. As Tre sings, the meaning of life is such a funny story. And this album really captures that. Here's "Funny Story (Song For Eva)" by Tre Burt from "You, Yeah, You."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FUNNY STORY (SONG FOR AVA)")

BURT: (Singing) I drift away, and I'm leaving without a trace. I think I'm sick. Like anyone, I'm just trying to live.

FELIX CONTRERAS, BYLINE: Hey there. This is Felix from Alt.Latino. My favorite album from 2021 that did not make the NPR Music final list is called "Sound Healing 1:11" by Draco Rosa.

(SOUNDBITE OF DRACO ROSA SONG, "EL AMOR DE BORIKEN")

CONTRERAS: Draco Rosa is one of the most fascinating characters in any genre of music. He was in a Puerto Rican boy band with Ricky Martin. He wrote "Livin' La Vida Loca" for Ricky. He's made Latin pop records, rock albums. He's a two-time cancer survivor. His album "Sound Healing" is a mix of electronic ambient with delicate touches of world music percussion and lyrics that take a deep dive into self-healing.

(SOUNDBITE OF DRACO ROSA SONG, "EL AMOR DE BORIKEN")

LARS GOTRICH, BYLINE: Hey, all. I'm Lars Gotrich, and I'm a producer and the Viking's Choice wizard of NPR Music. And, you know, as hard as I tried, there wasn't enough music that ripped on NPR's 100 best songs of the year. So I'm here to correct that oversight.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOIN SONG, "CRAPPY DREAMS COUNT")

GOTRICH: Moin is a post-punk trio with deep ties to London's electronic music scene. And you can hear that precision infiltrate its debut album, "Moot!"

(SOUNDBITE OF MOIN SONG, "CRAPPY DREAMS COUNT")

GOTRICH: The exclamation point in the album title is well-earned. This is a dagger play of riff wreckage with bass lines that groove as much as they open portals to other dimensions. Valentina Magaletti's drumming is the draw, especially on a track like "Crappy Dreams Count." The claustrophobic riff repeats and mutates throughout. The drums shiver and shake with the electricity of a drum machine that's grown limbs. So here it is - "Crappy Dreams Count" by Moin.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CRAPPY DREAMS COUNT")

MOIN: I think it was around dusk. I was staring into the dark water, looking for reflections.

SHAPIRO: The staff of NPR Music talking about songs that didn't make it onto their end-of-year lists. You can hear more of their personal favorites on the All Songs Considered podcast. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.