We’ve once again reached the halfway point of another year, and as such it creates a perfect opportunity to reflect on the past six months just to check in and see how things are going so far. You don’t need another recap of pandemic fatigue, vaccine distribution, and the “return to normalcy” while our democratic institutions remain in constant peril. That’s not what this site is about. Everyone is stressed out enough already, so let’s take a moment to remember the good things, like music. Oh hey, remember music? It’s that thing you can play to soundtrack your life and enhance your emotional state. The right song can turn your entire day around, for better or worse. A fond memory can be triggered by a song, or an uptempo beat can somehow make a sunny day that much brighter. Great stuff, right?

After the last 15 or so months that we’ve had, your relationship with music may have changed. Perhaps staying home without constant obligations inspired you to revisit some favorite albums or go digging for something new to expand your horizons. Then again, maybe like some other activities, listening to music just doesn’t ignite the same spark within you it once did. I absolutely get that. Live music in particular has been a constant source of joy in my life, and not attending a single concert in a year and a half left a hole no livestream could ever fill. I’m excited to get back to shows and festivals later this summer, and to share some of those experiences with you here on this site. Part of me also worries it won’t be the same or at least inflame my passions as easily as it used to.

Thankfully, the well of freshly recorded songs and albums has yet to run dry. Things weren’t looking so great for a couple of months this past spring though, as it appears a number of high profile artists chose to hold off on announcing new records until it became clear the world was reopening again and they could go out on tour. Don’t get me wrong there was still plenty of good stuff being released, you just needed to dig a little deeper some weeks to find it. When I began composing this mid-year playlist, my concern was over finding enough quality tracks to make it a worthwhile endeavor. Were there 50-100 songs from the past six months that I truly loved? I wasn’t sure, and it took a few weeks of searching through my library and checking the calendar for release dates before the answer became clear.

Below you’ll find 100 songs (6.5 hours of music) that I genuinely love from the first half of 2021, in both embedded Spotify and linked YouTube formats. They are very much all over the place in terms of genre, mood, tempo, and any other qualifier you may consider. Some great representation from Chicago’s local music scene in the mix too. As always, you’re unlikely to agree with all of my choices. I’d also be extremely surprised (and impressed) if you’ve heard all of these songs before seeing them on this playlist! For every Lorde or Lil Nas X there’s an Alicia Walter or Geese. My hope is that you’ll press play on something completely foreign to you and fall in love with it. Explore a bit! Hit shuffle and see where it takes you! Or find an artist/song you already know and like, then listen to the one in order before and after it. Everything is organized by genre/vibe and purposely not ranked, so please scroll down and give those later tracks some spins too. Enjoy and Happy Summer!