Monday, December 13, 2021

25 Favorite Albums of 2021

Well gang, it looks like we might just get to the end of another year.  I'll let you decide whether or not that's a good thing.  In the end, 2021 really wasn't that much different than the year that came before it.  There's still a pretty gnarly pandemic going on in case you haven't noticed, and from my vantage point, that's a lot of you.  Climate change is still real, fast encroaching, and still terrifying.  The world is still filled with assholes, but fortunately for all of us, some decent folks too.  We got one shithead out of office and put a different shithead in there instead.  And for some reason, i now know what an NFT is.  I'll never forgive any of you for that.

As per usual, music got us through it all.  These are my 25 favorite albums of the year, featuring some familiar faces, some newbies, and a whole lot of good tunes.  Presented for your consideration in alphabetical order.

1. Aeon Station - Observatory

It's really, really sucky that by all accounts The Wrens are over and done.  After waiting the better part of two decades for a follow-up to the 2003 masterpiece "The Meadowlands," inner turmoil amongst the band brought things to a close, partially because of the endless delays.  But now, many of the songs that would have been on that follow-up are on former member Kevin Whelan's solo debut as Aeon Station.  It's a wonderful piece of work and it's nice to hear these sounds again.

2. Andrew W.K. - God Is Partying

I'm a total sucker for Andrew W.K.  I realize this now.  I've embraced it fully.  Party hard.

3. Jarvis Cocker - Chansons d'Ennui Tip-Top

Former Pulp front man and Britpop living legend Jarvis Cocker recorded an album of faithful covers of old French pop songs inspired by Wes Anderson's latest film "The French Dispatch."  I was sold at Jarvis Cocker, but the rest of that was just too much to ever be able to pass up.

4. Converge and Chelsea Wolfe - Bloodmoon: I

Last year, metal band Thou and dark chanteuse Emma Ruth Rundle teamed up for an amazing collaborative album.  Not to be outdone, this year, metal band Converge and dark chanteuse Chelsea Wolfe also teamed up for an amazing collaborative album.  Who's it gonna be in 2022?

5. Divide and Dissolve - Gas Lit

Australian female duo Divide and Dissolve make epic, cacophonous music that's equal parts abrasive metal and expansive drone all in the name of bringing down white supremacist, imperialist, colonialist power structures.  Fuck yeah.

6. Failure - Wild Type Droid

On their latest, the beloved space rock band dialed things back a little bit, foregoing the epic and expansive format they perfected way back on 1996's "Fantastic Planet" for something more immediate, and by consequence more impactful than anything they've done since reuniting a few years ago.  All of their hallmarks are still there, they just seem way more focused this time around, and the result is their best album in years.

7. Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders, & The London Symphony Orchestra - Promises

Saxophonist Pharoah Sanders really needs no introduction.  The man used to play with Coltrane in the '60s for God's sake.  And The London Symphony Orchestra is one of the finest in the world.  Somehow, British electronic musician Floating Points managed to put a collaboration together, and the result is a beautiful and sublime combination of modern classical music and jazz.

8. Flowertown - Time Trials

I could dig on the lo-fi, psych-tinged, bedroom pop of Flowertown all day.  Sweet, breezy melodies with plenty of fuzz and hiss.

9. Holy Hive - Holy Hive

New York band Holy Hive combine the sounds of folk and soul to craft a record that feels wonderfully timeless.  And they worked in a cover of Charlotte Gainsbourg too for good measure.

10. Iceage - Seek Shelter

Danish band Iceage have yet to put out an album that i haven't loved or that hasn't been a favorite of whatever year it was released.  That trend holds true on the excellent "Seek Shelter."  They've really nailed down their particular brand of post-punk sound and have the ability to vary from it with ease on each new release.  Other artists would kill for that kind of consistency.

11. IDLES - Crawler

Speaking of bands that have nailed down their sound, UK post-punk outfit IDLES may have just released their sleeper best album in 2021.  "Crawler" infuses a kind of mournful soul into the band's usual caterwaul, and it strikes right at the heart.

12. Krallice - Demonic Wealth

New York black metal band Krallice has never stopped pushing their sound into any and every conceivable direction possible, from eardrum piercing guitar feedback and vocal screeching to interstellar exploring synthesizers and hum.  Lo-fi and scratchy new album "Demonic Wealth" does all this more.

13. Liars - The Apple Drop

Though the long-running experimental project Liars is now just a one man show, innovations never cease.  The sound is ever evolving.  It's almost hard to fathom that this is the same guy who made the albums back in the '00s that put the band on the map in the first place.  It was always hard to categorize, but it's damn near impossible now.

14. Lost Girls - Menneskekollektivet

Jenny Hval always makes interesting music, and on her collaborative project with Havard Volden, Lost Girls, she continues that trend.  The record is a very hypnotic mix of electronic music, ambient, and spoken word, a kind of experimental meditation.  Cool stuff.

15. Magdalena Bay - Mercurial World

Maybe the best straight-up pop album this year, LA duo Magdalena Bay have made something special.  There are moments of hazy dreampop bliss, bubblegum dance, disco, slinky R&B, and more.  In some alternate timeline, these two go back in time and make a different version of "Xanadu" with Olivia Newton-John.

16. Nun Gun - Mondo Decay

How on earth to describe "Mondo Decay" by Nun Gun.  The project consists of visual artist Brad Feuerhelm along with Lee Tesche and Ryan Mahan of post punk band Algiers. Collaborating with a few other musicians, the whole project is a critique on western post-industrial life and culture, culminating in a book of art and an accompanying soundtrack repurposing old film scores from '70s Italian mondo movies, remixing and screwing and tape looping the sounds of Frizzi, Ortolani, et al.  It's weird and out there, oozing and sometimes abrasive, but there is nothing else that sounds like it.

17. Daniel O'Sullivan - Fourth Density

Daniel O'Sullivan made a library album for London's KPM Music full of ambient drone, electronica, interstellar new age, and more.  It's a beautiful and entrancing mix from start to finish.

18. Leonie Pernet - Le Cirque de Consolation

I came across this slice of modern French pop pretty late in the game this year, but it has been stuck on repeat ever since.  At times it's a pop record.  At times it's an electronic record.  At times it's a darkwave record.  At times it's an alt-rock record.  I could keep going on.  Overall, it's a layered, often cinematic piece of sound that feels like i'll be coming back to it for years.

19. Soup - Visions

Another late entry into this list comes from Norway's Soup.  The band's been kicking around for over 15 years, but they were a new discovery for me in 2021.  "Visions" is an immense and amazing record.  Putting the needle down on side A is akin to drinking your bowlful of magic potion, losing all sense of time and space, and then crossing planes into some kind of alternate and unreal dimension.  Prog rock synths and post-rock guitars collide to melt the brain with psychedelic flair.  Listen to it in any state.

20. Stomp Talk Modstone - Linger in Someone's Memory with a Lurid Glow

Back in January when Japanese shoegaze band Stomp Talk Modstone released their absolutely enormous album "Linger in Someone's Memory with a Lurid Glow," i joked that it was way too early for my favorite album of the year to come out.  Flash forward to December, and it's still my top record.  Layers and layers of guitar and reverb with dreamy vocals and echoes everywhere.

21. Sugar Horse - The Live Long After

Pure and ferocious music from the UK that's a blistering mix of screamo, post-rock, hardcore punk, post-metal, shoegaze, avant garde weirdness, and really fun song titles like "Fat Dracula" and "Shouting Judas at Bob Dylan."

22. Tele Novella - Merlynn Belle

A little homegrown music makes the list this year with the psych pop-tinged folk and Americana from Lockhart, Texas's Tele Novella.  "Merlynn Belle" sounds like something Lee Hazlewood might have had a hand in were he still among the living.

23. Whitney K. - Two Years

Canadian folk singer/songwriter Whitney K. channels his inner Lou Reed on his latest album "Two Years," while at the same time sounding the bedroom laments you'd hear through the walls of your shitty city apartment, or like some crackling radio station you'd tune in driving an old pickup truck through the tundra and wilderness.  Essential music for anyone who's ever noodled around on an old acoustic guitar before.

24. Writhing Squares - Chart for the Solution

Philly duo Writhing Squares make noisy, no-wave, post-punk, psych rock constructed out of bass, sax, drum machine, and other aural detritus.  It sounds like the swirling, freaky beginnings of a nervous breakdown.

25. Adrian Younge - The American Negro

While Stomp Talk Modstone released my favorite album of the year, Adrian Younge's dense and powerful "The American Negro" is probably the best album of 2021.  Gathering a collective of different artists and using elements of jazz, soul, hip-hop, R&B, and slam poetry, the record is a testament of race, culture, and what it is to be black in America.  As a straight white man, my experience is vastly different from so many others out there, and if we're all ever going to meet on common ground or truly understand one another, it will be through art and music and the appreciation there of.  Respect.  Dignity.  Love.

There you have it.  Be back here tomorrow for my favorite songs of 2021.

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