AF 2021 IN REVIEW: Our Favorite Albums & Singles of The Year

If you went into 2021 with high expectations, you weren’t alone. Even if it was hard to feel optimistic this time last year, it certainly seemed as if things could get no worse. Live music did return, after all – though with the appearance of Delta, and now Omicron, the joyful noise comes with a caveat. After sixteen months of having to livestream shows (fun, but not the same) little could stop me from attending shows in person; wearing a mask as an extra precaution felt like no big deal, even if no one else was doing it. But luck (and vaccines) feel like the real reason I emerged unscathed from dozens of risky experiences, and with performances on the horizon canceled once again, maybe it’s wise to enter 2022 with slightly lower expectations.

There’s always recorded music, anyhow. Maybe the tumult of the year just has me personally feeling a bit unfocused, but it seems as though I barely scaled the mountain of this year’s musical offerings without getting a bit buried in the avalanche of releases – ones that had been pushed back, ones that were created in lockdown. I’ll be playing catch up well into the new year, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t gems I connected with almost immediately, and very deeply. And that’s what I’ve heard across the board, from those in the industry as well as casual music fans – is that our favorites this year stayed on heavy rotation, as we latched onto music that accurately reflected our moods, which evolved moment to moment and of course happened to be different for all of us at any given time. What does that mean for year-end lists? Audiofemme has always compiled an eclectic list, including favorites from each of our contributors without overall rank – consider any repeats to be the best of the best. But this year, the list seems even more diverse, meaning there’s a wealth of weird and wonderful music below to discover, dear reader. Thanks for sticking with us through another wild year.


  • Marianne White (Executive Director)
    • Top 10 Albums:
      1) PinkPantheress – to hell with it
      2) Mdou Moctar – Afrique Victime
      3) Low – Hey What
      4) Jazmine Sullivan – Heaux Tales
      5) Julien Baker – Little Oblivions
      6) Dawn Richard – Second Line: An Electro Revival
      7) Indigo De Souza – Any Shape You Take
      8) aya – im hole
      9) Flock of Dimes – Head of Roses
      10) Tyler, the Creator – CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST
    • Top 5 Singles:
      1) Japanese Breakfast – “Be Sweet”
      2) Loraine James (feat. Eden Samara) – “Running Like That”
      3) Hand Habits – “More Than Love”
      4) Sharon Van Etten & Angel Olsen – “Like I Used To”
      5) Julien Baker – “Faith Healer (Half Waif Remix)”

  • Lindsey Rhoades (Editor-in-Chief)
    • Top 10 Albums:
      1) Low – Hey What
      2) Tirzah – Colourgrade
      3) Nana Yamato – Before Sunrise
      4) Emma Ruth Rundle – Engine of Hell
      5) Jane Weaver – Flock
      6) Tonstartssbandht – Petunia
      7) Arlo Parks – Collapsed in Sunbeams
      8) Squirrel Flower – Planet (i)
      9) Veik – Surrounding Structures
      10) Cassandra Jenkins – An Overview on Phenomenal Nature
    • Top 10 Singles:
      1) Sharon Van Etten & Angel Olsen – “Like I Used To”
      2) Special Interest – “All Tomorrow’s Carry”
      3) Squid – “G.S.K.”
      4) Julien Baker – “Bloodshot”
      5) Mandy, Indiana – “Bottle Episode”
      6) Remember Sports – “Pinky Ring”
      7) Cedric Noel – “Comuu”
      8) Gustaf – “Mine”
      9) June Jones – “Therapy”
      10) MAN ON MAN – “Stohner”

  • Mandy Brownholtz (Marketing Director)
    • Top 5 Albums (in no particular order):
      Spellling – The Turning Wheel
      King Woman – Celestial Blues
      Macy Rodman – Unbelievable Animals
      Marissa Nadler – The Path of the Clouds
      Kinlaw – The Tipping Scale
    • Top 3 Singles (in no particular order):
      Often – “Deep Sleep”
      Mannequin Pussy – “Control”
      Spice – “A Better Treatment”


  • Alexa Peters (Playing Seattle)
    • Top 10 Albums:
      1) Wye Oak – Cut All The Wires: 2009-2011
      2) Dori Freeman – Ten Thousand Roses
      3) Isaiah Rashad – The House Is Burning
      4) Fawn Wood – Kåkike
      5) Carmen Q. Rothwell – Don’t Get Comfy / Nowhere
    • Honorable Mention: Mike Gebhart – Co-Pilot 
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) Doja Cat (feat. SZA) – “Kiss Me More”
      2) Mitski – “Working for the Knife”
      3) DoNormaal – “Baby May”

  • Cat Woods (Playing Melbourne)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Deap Vally – Marriage
      2) Mod Con – Modern Condition
      3) Laura Stevenson – Laura Stevenson
      4) Joan As Police Woman – The Solution is Restless
      5) Black Country, New Road – For the first time
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) Black Country, New Road – “Sunglasses”
      2) Lana Del Rey – “Dealer”
      3) jennylee – “Tickles”

  • Liz Ohanesian (Contributor)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Hackedepicciotto — The Silver Threshold
      2) Saint Etienne — I’ve Been Trying to Tell You
      3) L’impératrice — Take Tsubo
      4) Pearl and the Oysters— Flowerland
      5) Nuovo Testamento — New Earth
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) Midnight Magic – “Beam Me Up” 
      2) Jessie Ware – “Please”
      3) Gabriels – “Love and Hate in a Different Time (Kerri Chandler Remix)”  

  • Gillian G. Gaar (Musique Boutique)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Dolphin Midwives — Body of Water
      2) Sarah McQuaid — The St. Buryan Sessions
      3) Low — Hey What 
      4) Witch Camp — I’ve Forgotten Now Who I Used to Be 
      5) Full Bush — Movie Night
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) Maggie Herron — “Sweet Lullaby”
      2) Sleater-Kinney — “High in the Grass”
      3) ONETWOTHREE — “Give Paw” 

  • Jason Scott (Contributor)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Jetty Bones – Push Back
      2) M.A.G.S. – Say Things That Matter
      3) Lyndsay Ellyn – Queen of Nothing
      4) Kacey Musgraves – star-crossed
      5) Christian Lopez – The Other Side
    • Top 5 Singles:
      1) Hayes Carll – “Help Me Remember”
      2) Jake Wesley Rogers – “Middle of Love”
      3) Adele – “To Be Loved”
      4) Carly Pearce – “What He Didn’t Do”
      5) Kacey Musgraves – “what doesn’t kill me”

  • Michelle Rose (Contributor)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Alex Orange Drink – Everything Is Broken, Maybe That’s O​.​K.
      2) Billie Eilish – Happier Than Ever
      3) Kacey Musgraves – star-crossed
      4) Magdalena Bay – Mercurial World
      5) Japanese Breakfast – Jubilee
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) Blonder – “Ice Cream Girl” 
      2) Mitski – “The Only Heartbreaker”
      3) Kristiane – “Better On Your Own”  

  • Victoria Moorwood (Playing Cincy)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Polo G – Hall of Fame
      2) Benny the Butcher & Harry Fraud – The Plugs I Met 2
      3) Megan Thee Stallion – Something For Thee Hotties
      4) Pooh Shiesty – Shiesty Sessions
      5) blackbear – misery lake
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) Benny the Butcher & Harry Fraud – “Thanksgiving”
      2) Lil Nas X (feat. Jack Harlow)  – “INDUSTRY BABY”
      3) 24kGoldn (feat. Future) – “Company”

  • Jamila Aboushaca (Contributor)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Kacey Musgraves – star-crossed
      2) Snoh Aalegra – Temporary Highs in the Violet Skies 
      3) Lil Nas X – Montero
      4) Darkside – Spiral
      5) Blu DeTiger – How Did We Get Here EP
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) Kaytranada (feat. H.E.R.) – “Intimidated”
      2) Kacey Musgraves – “simple times”
      3) Snoh Aalegra – “In Your Eyes”

  • Sophia Vaccaro (Playing the Bay)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Aly & AJ – A Touch of the Beat Gets You Up on Your Feet Gets You Out and Then Into the Sun
      2) Julia Wolf – Girls in Purgatory (Full Moon Edition)
      3) Megan Thee Stallion – Something For Thee Hotties
      4) Lil Mariko – Lil Mariko
      5) Destroy Boys – Open Mouth, Open Heart
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) daine – “dainecore”
      2) Julia Wolf – “Villain”
      3) Doja Cat – “Need To Know”

  • Sam Weisenthal (Contributor)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Indigo De Souza – Any Shape You Take
      2) Katy Kirby – Cool Dry Place
      3) Mega Bog – Life, and Another
      4) Ada Lea – one hand on the steering wheel the other sewing a garden
      5) Olivia Kaplan – Tonight Turns to Nothing
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) Charlotte Cornfield – “Drunk For You” 
      2) Dora Jar – “Multiply”
      3) Joe Taylor Sutkowski, Dirt Buyer – “What Luck, Goodbye”  

  • Sara Barron (Playing Detroit)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) PinkPantheress – to hell with it
      2) Summer Walker – Still Over It
      3) Erika de Casier – Sensational
      4) Jazmine Sullivan – Heaux Tales
      5) Adele – 30
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) Lana Del Rey – “Dealer”
      2) Liv.e – “Bout It”
      3) SZA – “I Hate U”

  • Eleanor Forrest (Contributor)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Arlo Parks – Collapsed in Sunbeams
      2) CL – ALPHA
      3) My Life As Ali Thomas – Peppermint Town
      4) Halsey – If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power
      5) Remember Sports – Like a Stone
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) FKA twigs (feat. Central Cee) – “Measure of a Man”
      2) Sabriel – “Pulse”
      3) Lexie Liu – “有吗炒面 ALGTR”

Remember Sports Sharpen Their Sound on Latest LP Like a Stone

Photo Credit: Sonia Kiran

Artistic evolution takes many forms, and for Philadelphia-based pop-punk quartet Remember Sports, that growth is represented in their latest LP Like a Stone. Released April 23 via Father/Daughter Records, the album signifies the next stage in Remember Sports’ development from friends with shared interests to becoming mainstays in the basement-rock scene.

“I think this album represents us finding our groove as not just a band who plays for fun but as one who takes things seriously,” Carmen Perry, the band’s lead vocalist, tells Audiofemme. “Not that we didn’t before! It’s just that we’ve been doing this for a while now and we’ve become more comfortable with the process.” The album was recorded at The Honey Jar in Brooklyn, with help from Carlos Hernandez and Julian Fader (of Minneapolis indie pop trio Nadine). They’ll celebrate with a release show via Bandcamp Live on May 22.

Initially called Sports, the band has seen numerous variations of members, and added Remember to their name in 2017. But the constant within the band has been the friendship it grew out of. “So much of our music is about memories and being nostalgic and sentimental,” says Perry, who formed the band while at Kenyon College in Ohio with Catherine Dwyer – who’s still in the band – and Benji Dossetter and James Karlin. “We were friends since the first day in freshman year; we liked the same kinds of music and really liked playing music together so it felt pretty natural to play in a band. We’ve gone through a lot iterations in the band since then, but its been me and Catherine since the beginning.” Currently, Remember Sports is comprised of singer-songwriter and guitarist Perry, bassist Dwyer, guitarist Jack Washburn, and drummer Connor Perry.

Like a Stone starts off with the punchy, pop-rock bop “Pinky Ring.” Utilizing their staple musical diet of rollicking drums and raw guitar chords, a quick, two-beat intro sets off the melody, fully immersing the listener into Remember Sports’ world. Tugging on themes of self-doubt and the inevitable self-imposed pressure that we tend to exert on ourselves, the melody captures that frantic emotional state. “It speaks to the themes of the album and is a good mix of the pop punk music we started out playing and what else we can do as a band,” says Perry. “Usually when we’re writing a new album I go through some dry periods where I’m not writing much and I think ‘I’m never going to write a song in my life!’ I think I then wrote ‘Pinky Ring’ in an afternoon. I don’t really write in minor keys a lot so this was outside my writing style but I like that it opens the album on this confusing note.”

Following the fast-paced chaos of “Pinky Ring,” “Coffee Machine” plays as an interlude in both a literal and metaphorical sense; it demonstrates the band’s experimentation with sound after “Pinky Ring” revisits their signature style, while the lyrics “Stay here ’til it don’t hurt anymore,” could read as a plea directly pointed at listeners.

The laid-back “Sentimentally” follows with electric guitar evoking a feeling of a nostalgic summer haze as Perry’s vocals paint a bittersweet picture detailing the trepidation that comes with change as we grow older. With “Easy,” Perry pulls on a thread of destruction and the breakdown of a toxic relationship, combining it with strong guitar riffs and a rapid drum beat. “Eggs” and “Materialistic” see Remember Sports break new ground as they change gears and come down, letting the energy and angst of the previous track settle before the title track picks up the pace again. Perry’s vocals command attention in a quietly confident manner throughout the album, while the band’s ’90s grunge influences and atmospheric guitar solos shine through as well.

Standout track “Out Loud” is a somber, yet inspirational listen that diverges from the album with pop elements. “It’s sort of a pop song that I always really wanted to write. When I was working on a popsicle truck one summer in Philly, the melody popped into my head and I had a lot of free time so I just sort of came up with the lyrics and was singing it to myself before I could get home,” Perry remembers. “I was watching Euphoria that summer and I felt really inspired by the camera work, the glitter and the make up of that show that just reminded me of being young and really feeling things very deeply.” The intensity of emotions that come with being a teenager is depicted in lyrics like, “Won’t stop/Never give up/Trying to get everything out/Of your head, into your mouth/We can make this last if you say it out loud,” Perry letting loose and letting her vocal soar at the titular words, which are then repeated back by each band member in turn during a mellow outro.

“Odds Are” ties up Like a Stone in a similar way to the final scenes of a coming-of-age film. Discussing themes of change and moving on, the track begins with the crystal clear notes of an acoustic guitar as Perry’s twangy lyrics recount a complicated relationship in cheeky lines like “I spaced out and walked past my street/I got lost in thinking something/Though the thoughts were cheap.” As more instruments and vocals gradually materialize, joining forces for the final verse, the album ends with the cautiously hopeful lines “Well I don’t know why but I think we all deserve another try/Yeah, I don’t know why but I think my odds are good this time.”

Perry might as well be talking about Remember Sports’ trajectory. Previous work, such as 2018 LP Slow Buzz, zeroed in on the breakdown of a relationship and as a result communicated an overall feeling of unbridled frustration. Like a Stone, on the other hand, emanates a sense of cathartic closure, and represents a marked departure for the band both in their sound and storytelling.

This shift owes itself not just to the investments they’ve made in new equipment but also the shift in their outlook. No longer interested in creating the “perfect” track, Perry has allowed herself to feel her way through the lyrics. “When we were writing Slow Buzz, recording it and putting the finishing touches on it, I really tried to make sure I put everything I was trying to say in it, to the point of reworking lyrics and taking things out,” she recalls. “It worked for that album, but this time around… I put less pressure on myself to say everything that I needed to say or wanted to say and being less definitive in the process, because this isn’t going to be the last album that I’ll make in my life. I just took some of the pressure off and wrote what was in my head.”

Remember Sports have a knack for capturing both a peppy wistfulness and an all-consuming emotional intensity. Partly a result of Perry’s diaristic style of song-writing and the musical rawness of the band’s sound, the combination of the two strikes an unexpected chord.

Throughout this album there is a sense of evolution, of looking at the parts that make us who we are and acknowledging all their effects on both ourselves and our environment. Like a Stone holds nothing back as Remember Sports use the album as a vector to tackle themes of self doubt, insecurity and self hatred, turning them on their head in the process.

Follow Remember Sports on Instagram and Facebook for ongoing updates.

ONLY NOISE: Seven Songs That Help Me Navigate Depression and Anxiety

Soccer Mommy’s “Your Dog” reminds the author that everyone deserves respect, even on their darkest days. Photo by Daniel Topete

ONLY NOISE explores music fandom with poignant personal essays that examine the ways we’re shaped by our chosen soundtrack. This week, Lauren Rearick compiles a playlist of songs she’s leaned on to cope with mental illness.

Nearly eight years ago, I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. I had long suspected that my lifetime of continual worries and lingering sadness had been something more, and although receiving confirmation made me feel validated, it also made me feel afraid and alone.

The stigma surrounding mental illness continues to lessen, but there are still times when it can seem as if you’re the only one in the world going through it. It’s hard to explain to others why you constantly worry, or fear something as simple as driving to a new destination, when you don’t even understand the reasoning behind your own emotions. Additionally, it feels like mental illness is some secret that, once shared, will forever impact your relationships – it becomes this hidden extension of you.

I continue to work towards getting better, and while I have found methods of treatment that work for me, I’ve also found coping mechanisms. Along with watching endless amounts of uplifting cartoons (Sailor Moon and Adventure Time are my go-tos) I’ve turned to music, and those feelings and fears that I once thought were unique to me have revealed themselves through others’ songs. From my fear of being alone to a promise that even the most broken pieces will eventually fit together into something beautiful, here are the seven songs that helped me navigate relationships and life while contending with depression and anxiety.

“Your Dog” – Soccer Mommy

I used to believe that having a mental illness made me unable to have normal relationships. As it turns out, I was waiting for someone who practiced understanding. “Your Dog,” from Soccer Mommy’s 2018 LP Clean, is a note to demand your worth, and to accept nothing less than kindness from others. There’s a furious beauty to the song, a message of empowerment that seems so soft when presented, but is made to land with an impression. In particular, the line, “I don’t wanna be your fucking dog/That you drag around/A collar on my neck tied to a pole/Leave me in the freezing cold,” struck an immediate chord with me, reminding me that one should never be forgotten, even on their darkest days.

“#23” – IAN SWEET

The entirety of IAN SWEET’s Shapeshifter album is an ode to anxiety, with the release detailing vocalist Jillian Medford’s struggles with mental illness. While I’ve found myself connecting with the whole album, “#23” openly talks of isolation, and as it continues, Medford expresses a desire to change, but an inability to make it happen. I have so often been there; wishing I could make my emotions just disappear. When I’m feeling totally alone, I know I have others I could call upon, but sometimes just listening to this track is enough – it reminds me that someone else potentially feels the same.

“Everybody Does” – Julien Baker

The intimacy of Julien Baker’s music has connected with numerous fans, including myself. In my initial experience with depression, I had a constant fear that I would be left alone. Even without depression, I think we all have a fear that we could potentially lose a friendship or a relationship, and on “Everybody Does,” — a single which appears on Baker’s 2015 debut album — the singer appeals to that worry. The song isn’t meant to encourage; rather, it reminded me that I’m not the only one fearful of being alone, and knowing that is comforting. In particular, the line: “I know myself better than anybody else / And you’re gonna run / You’re gonna run when you find out who I am” really resonates with me, but as Baker explained in an interview with Stereogum, she’s come to realize “it’s a fallacy to believe everyone will run when you tell them who you really are.”

“TV Dreams” – Katie Ellen

Even with continuing work, medication, and treatment, I still have bad days. And for those moments when I need a reminder that it’s okay not to be okay, I listen to “TV Dreams.” This track was one of the first songs released by Katie Ellen — the project of Anika Pyle and Dan Frelly, born from the ashes of their former band, Chumped — and later appeared on the band’s 2017 debut Cowgirl Blues. It incorporates both soft and harsh moments, with confessional proclamations to be there for someone, even if that someone has since moved on. “TV Dreams” reminds me that sometimes things won’t work out, and I may never understand my every feeling, but the ensuing confusion is something others experience, too.

“Let Down” – Radiohead

There’s no telling when I’ll have good or bad days, and when I’m at my lowest, “Let Down,” from Radiohead’s critically lauded Ok Computer, has provided a small glimmer of hope that things will change. This line: “Don’t get sentimental, it always ends up drivel/One day, I am gonna grow wings,” has etched itself into my memory and heart. There’s something truly comforting in feeling as if one day, I’ll have the ability to move on from where I am now.

“Reality TV” – Remember Sports

Hidden beneath the chaotic drumming and fast guitars of this single from 2015’s All Of Something is a message of just needing someone to rely on. The line “Take my mind off the empty space in this heart of mine / and I’ll take your mind off the empty space in your bed tonight,” has always resonated with me, helping me to realize I was relying on the wrong person to get me through a tough time. “Reality TV” is a musical reminder that no one has it all figured out – sometimes we’re just passing through.

“Bus Ticket” – Cayetana

The music of Cayetana has always been particularly therapeutic for me, and this proves especially true on “Bus Ticket,” a song that explores adjusting to a new medication and finding yourself again. This track, featured on the group’s sophomore release New Kind of Normal, has a quiet rage, and it instills in me a sense of pride, pushing me forward when I’m at my lowest. From reflections on strength inspired by others to the desire to finally get some serious “shit off my chest,” I think this is the track that finally reminded me that feelings things more than others or being afraid of something simple doesn’t make me any less of a person.

PLAYING COLUMBUS: Three Ohio Acts That Slayed SXSW

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Remember Sports photo by Jess Flynn

While Columbus geared up for yet another snowstorm last week, Austin was getting ready for South by Southwest (SXSW), a yearly conference and festival highlighting music, film, and art. SXSW is notorious for its sprawl – the festival spills over the city limits for several weeks – its off-site events, and the breadth of artists in attendance; showcases put on by labels, outlets, venues, and even countries highlight the vastness of the music industry.

Like SXSW, music in Central Ohio crosses boundaries of genre, geography, and generation. Artists spring from larger cities, like Columbus, but also form in pockets of community found in smaller cities. Colleges, collectives, and a strong sense of locality generate musical projects which are diverse in their approach, instrumental treatment, and subject. This year at SXSW, Ohio was represented by a plethora of creators, managers, creatives, and more. This week, Playing Columbus highlights three musical artists who planted their Ohio roots at SXSW 2018.


Hometown: Columbus, OH
First formed in 2013 out of the Columbus DIY scene, didi has impressed both within Columbus and beyond; after the release of their debut album in 2015, the group toured with Speedy Ortiz, Sad13, and Diet Cig, among others. didi was named as a band to watch by Columbus Alive in 2017, and they’ve been featured by Remezcla and PBS. They’re an strikingly talented, tight-knit group: made up of Meg Zakany, Sheena McGrath, Kevin Bilapka-Arbelaez, and Leslie Shimizu, the group splits signing and song-writing responsibilities. They’re also an important figure in the Columbus music canon because of their advocacy for QTIPOC and women within the overwhelmingly white, inaccessible DIY community. Fans of didi can expect more work from the group soon – their second album is expected to be released sometime this summer.


Hometown: Akron, OH
Ohio has a rich history of hip-hop and rap, a legacy which has crystalized in the work of Swoope. Though he’s now based in Atlanta, the rapper was born and raised in Akron Ohio, where he grew up playing music with his family and within his church. Swoope’s been an iconic rapper within the Christian community since his earliest releases, but it was with his second full-length album, Sinema, that allowed Swoope to cross into the mainstream. Last month, Swoope released his latest project, Sonshine, on a new label, Native No./EMPIRE.


Hometown: Gambier, OH
Remember Sports, who are now based in Philadelphia, PA, formed in Ohio while the band members were attending Kenyon College. After self-releasing their first album under the moniker Sports, they signed to Father/Daughter records in 2015 and followed up with their second full-length project, All of Something. Since then, the group has graduated from college, added “Remember” to their name to avoid any confusion with other bands, and released a split EP with label-mates Plush. Like didi, Remember Sports includes three vocalists – Carmen Perry, Catherine Dwyer, Jack Washburn – who split duties. Their fourth member, Conner Perry, plays percussion for the band. But Remember Sports goes far beyond the expected instrumental components of a quartet, incorporating a remarkable number of instruments, including slide guitar, melodica, drum machine, and field recordings. They’re prolific, too; though it’s only been months since the EP release, Remember Sports already has new material on the way. Slow Buzz, their third full-length, is set to drop on May 18th. The first single from the album, “Up From Below,” has already been released – a pop-punk influenced song with syncopated rhythm and irreverent, gut-punching lyrics.