2021 was supposed to be the year of recovery, instead it threw up even more challenges and struggle, the pandemic rolled on highlighting the deep inequalities at the heart of our society and tensions that exist within our culture. As musicians surveyed the wreckage of a year where they saw their incomes shrinking due to the inequalities of the streaming model, the continued decline in physical sales and the fact that only a portion of festivals were able to take place and lockdowns meant touring only partially returned in the second half of the year. Meanwhile various challenges hit independent labels, Brexit red tape, and vinyl production issues and crippling costs all impacted upon the labels and musicians that we love. A report from this year said that three quarters of musicians were actually considering whether or not to carry on.
Still, there were shafts of light. We saw movements for change and hope, whether these were the environmental activism, the Broken Record movement which led to a bill being proposed in the Houses of Parliament for a fairer deal by MP Kevin Brennan, or something as small as Bandcamp Friday with every penny from it being put back into the pockets of the artists.
For our part God In The TV has had its best year yet as a site, our most visits, and our biggest ever audience. We were also thrilled that our R.E.M. compilation made £5,000 for Help Musicians!
We are constantly working to find ways to platform the music we love, such as here where we present our top fifty records of 2021, as suggested by our writers and considered by our editors. A varied and eclectic list that symbolises a sample of some of our favourite albums plucked from the vast array of music that has been released over this past twelve months. It is very subjective and the placings are just a bit arbitrary: indeed the top three were tied, only split by an editors vote. But each album reflects the tastes of our brilliant and passionate staff of writers. I am sure you already have your own favourite records of the year but maybe below you will find something new to fall in love with.
Thank you for reading and listening, here’s to 2022!
50. Shame – Drunk Tank Pink
Shame began the journey to producing a second album feeling shell shocked from constant touring. To cope, guitarist Sean Coyle-Smith barricaded himself in his bedroom and obsessively deconstructed his very approach to playing and making music. Frontman Charlie Steen took a different approach and partied. The toll of life in the band had hit hard. The disintegration of his relationship, the loss of a sense of self and the growing identity crisis both the band and an entire generation were feeling. Charlie hid away to work on the lyrics in a room painted from floor to ceiling in the pink shade developed to calm down inmates in a US Naval correctional facility. The result is an album full of twists and turns, depth, emotion, and honesty; however, I am not sure the calming influence of the colour Drunk Tank Pink worked. Thank goodness. (Julia Mason)
49. Black Country, New Road – For The First Time
I’m hearing bits of prog, bits of math rock and post-rock, maybe even a smattering of jazz. Is it that they defy categorisation or that they tick many boxes? They manage to avoid seeming self-indulgent, which is no mean feat for a band that are this experimental. (Ed Jupp)
48. Circuit des Yeux – -io
On sixth album, -io, this singular voice is matched for all its intensity by Fohr’s 23-piece orchestral arrangements, channelling the album’s harrowing context with painstaking details. (Trev Elkin)
47. White Flowers – Day By Day
The trio focus upon tense, often minimal arrangements, the strong punch of their rhythmic beats punctured by the enigmatic emotion of Katie Drew’s spectral voice. It all makes for some pretty powerful stuff. (Simon Godley)
46. Ty Segall – Harmoniser
Ty Segall aka: the psychedelic rock machine that never stops released his 22nd album this year. Segall consistently delivers fantastically inventive, exciting albums like it’s no big deal and Harmoniser is no exception to the rule. Tracks like ‘Erased’ and ‘Waxman’ unabashedly embrace Segall’s tendency to move the sound towards hard rock whilst remaining interesting and weird enough to satisfy artsy, psych musos.
If there’s anything that this album reinforces it’s that repetition can be a powerful force when used strategically, rather than it being predictable. The repetition of riffs and lyrics throughout tracks like ‘Play’ and ‘Feel Good’ is completely intentional and very danceable. At just 35 minutes, Harmoniser is not Segall’s longest album – none of the songs contain any elaborate 7 minute long psych dirges and in this respect, there’s almost a kind of glam rock feel about it. That being said, this is still very much a Ty Segall album that’s sure to please new and old fans alike. (Kate Haresnape)
45. Tori Amos – Ocean To Ocean
Ocean to Ocean is a gorgeously moving triumph. Written within lockdown, and in the aftermath of the grief of her Mother’s death, this is a collection of striking songs with much depth and beauty. These songs beautifully burn within you. A wonderful album. (Lucy Bennett).
44. Low – Hey What
Find yourself the time to immerse yourself in this record, either drifting off with headphones or blasting it out on speakers and despite what may appear to be a hard exterior it’s blissful within. (Ed Jupp)
43. James – All The Colours Of You
It’s as astonishing as ever that a band with such longevity have been able to avoid nostalgia at all costs, continually experimenting with their sound and always challenging both themselves and their fans. (Laura Dean)
42. Hayden Thorpe – Moondust For My Diamond
When Hayden Thorpe decided he wanted to create in a different context to Wild Beasts he wasn’t fucking about, was he? The piano ballads on 2019’s Diviner saw him reflect on a new life as a solo artist; pretty, thoughtful songs with emotions bubbling close to the surface. Follow up Moondust For My Diamond finds him relocated to hometown of Kendal, the fresh and clean and wide open spaces opening up his mind maybe? On it, he asks bigger questions of the world. The record’s gentleness and restraint, further soothed through synths and subtle programming is deceptive on initial listens. A deeper dedicated dive reveals an understated elegance; as we are healing from the wretchedness of the past two years the record is a magical mystical balm on our remaining scars. (Cath Holland)
41. Jane Weaver – Flock
Jane Weaver‘s finest album yet…the ethereal psychedelica of those albums remained and has the same hypnotic multi-layered pull of bands such as the mighty Broadcast and Stereolab. Flock manages to be Weaver’s loosest set of songs as well as being her most commercial. It’s an immaculate album from someone who is working at an extremely high level and is long overdue a commercial breakthrough. (Jonathan Wright)
40. Dummy – Mandatory Enjoyment
Los Angeles California’s krautrock summershine indiepop hybrid band Dummy have released Mandatory Enjoyment, which is one of the most anxious yet chilled out albums of the year. Mandatory Enjoyment is stuck in traffic, it’s covered by smog, it’s lit by neon, it’s waiting for it’s edible to kick in, it’s feeling the pressure of almost 4 million in population, it’s feeling the isolation of disconnect with those 4 million in population, it’s standing in good company of Can, Neu, Stereolab, and Electrelane, it’s finding its way into your upcoming purchases.(Mike Turner)
39. Carwyn Ellis & Rio – Mas
The songs are sung in Welsh, blended with distinct pop and musics from across Latin America to create a delicious infusion of Tropicália, bossa nova, samba and cumbia. (Cath Holland)
38. Curtis Harding – If Words Were Flowers
An awe-inspiring collection of songs about the need for companionship in the high and low moments of our lives, set to Curtis Harding’s brand of erudite yet erratic soul music. (Matt Hobbs)
37. Allison Russell – Outside Child
Outside Soul. With its deeply personal lyrics and mix of musical styles, like the excellent blues-jazz opener ‘Montreal’ and the Americana-gospel-rock of ‘4th Day Prayer’, Allison Russell keeps you on your toes and constantly surprised. (Max M)
36. Bicep – Isles
Deep percussive patterns which become moreish by their very nature. These tunes possess an end-of-party feel, with bpm riding swiftly, the pitch and intensity creating the character of the number. (Nick James)
35. Peter Gregson – Patina
Renowned cellist Peter Gregson’s fifth solo album Patina, saw him leap across a glacial tundra of sound, technology, and emotional weight. Recorded in Abbey Road using new 4K surround sound system, Patina fuses Gregson’s virtuosic cello playing with an increasing deftness for creating electronic melody. The result in an album whose glow shines a new light on an increasingly formidable composer.(James Turrell)
34. Magdalena Bay – Mercurial World
A sleeper hit of the year this LA duo transport us to new imaginary planets with their delicious, weightless and infectious brand of future pop. Woven with mainframe memories of synth and dream pop of the past and given a respray for 2021, suites of beats and intoxicating sounds layered with fragments of wistful melody that are both familiar and otherworldly: theirs is a Mercurial World you will want to visit again and again. (Bill Cummings)
33. IDLES – Crawler
An album that shows that our favourite gnarly rockers can do ‘dark’ just as well as anybody, Crawler‘s inspiration came largely from frontman Joe Talbot’s near fatal car crash. If we weren’t already made aware of this already from opening track ‘MTT 420 RR‘ – a pensive, moody number with an ominous foreboding, we’re left in no doubt by the time we get to the rather unsubtle ‘Car Crash‘. What’s most pleasing about Crawler though, is the incorporation of various new elements to their sound, sometimes coming off as nods to Echo and the Bunnymen or Suicide, amongst others. Intense barely covers it. (Loz Etheridge)
32. UV-TV – Always Something
New York City trio UV-TV exhilarating third album, is the sound of a band enjoying themselves playing live: it’s supercharged with awesome fuzz trailed guitar riffs, flowing boy/girl melodies and bounding percussion
Always Something fizzes with effervescent power-pop: an album that plugs into sounds of the ‘80s and ‘90s but unlike much of the lad bands that populate this year’s festival line-ups, it sounds utterly infectious and refreshing. (Bill Cummings)
31. King Woman – Celestial Blues
LA’s Kris Esfandiari is a multi-faceted musician involved in several genre-spanning projects from the grungey soul of Miserable to the clean cut ethereal pop of last year’s Sugar High album. As King Woman she explores the darker corners of the human condition and second album, Celestial Blues, is her magnum opus. Spiky doom metal intersects in ritualistic shapes with post-metal riffs, shoegaze melancholy and occult indie rock to create something scarily impactful on the senses and emotions. Esfandiari’s low throaty growl forms the blackened spine of this record, her voice occasionally rising out of the sludge to tower over the guitars like the angel of death. Even if metal isn’t usually your thing, you’ll find some compelling songwriting right here. (Trev Elkin)
30. The Allergies – Promised Land
The Allergies bring uplifting beats, funky hip-hop and thrilling collaborations have combined to create an album full of positivity and joy, perfect for these troubled times.
The return of long-time collaborator Ugly Duckling’s Andy Cooper and his ridiculously speedy vocal delivery create highlights on this album such as ‘Utility Man’. ‘Jumping Off’ makes you bounce and the scratching gets you moving. Producers Rackabeat and DJ Moneyshot aka The Allergies bring music to put a smile on your face, sprinkle sunshine in your world and add a spring to your step. Singles from Promised Land include ‘Love Somebody’ , ‘Move On Baby’, title track ‘Promised Land’ and opener ‘Lean On You’ with Dynamite MC. The common theme between all the collaborators and The Allergies is that everyone seems to be having an absolute blast in creating this music. Just listen to ‘Going To The Party’ featuring Lyrics Born and tell me you cannot instantly conjure up an image of a funky party. The album closes with ‘You’ a soulful end to Promised Land and ending on such a calmer note only shows the skill, range and talent of The Allergies. I’ll see you on the dancefloor!! (Julia Mason)
29. Noga Erez – KIDS (Against The Machine)
Israeli singer Noga Erez’s follow-up to her 2017 debut, Off The Radar, blends jazz and Afro-beat with a stoic but communal realism. Socially aware, political at times, and with a full band in tow who are so obviously enjoying themselves despite everything that is going on in the world and makes Kids an impossibly infectious and delightfully percussive record.
The seemingly effortless musical flow means an outrageously cool drop in ‘Knockout’ moves seamlessly into ‘End of the Road’’s loose contradictory party vibe and the dreamy brass of ‘Switch Me Off’ is just the tonic to the anti-funk of ‘No News on TV’. Glorious throughout.(Steve Spithray)
28. Papur Wal – Amser Mynd Adra
Papur Wal have undergone somewhat of a transformation even before this their debut album came out, moving from a heavier slacker sound on to a deeper dedication to melody, harmonies and a focus of high quality pop songwriting. ‘Slacker power pop’ may sound a contradiction in terms – maybe – but it works. The rock element is still present, but there’s your classic pop honest sweetness. (Cath Holland)
27. Lonelady – Former Things
At just eight tracks there’s an economy, directness and adventurous spirit at the heart of Former Things. Awesome lead cut ‘(There Is) No Logic’ is a pinpoint cut-up of synths, samples and R&B grooves, one that can fill dance floors.
Forged of the electronic collision of synths and guitars as it implants the vintage synth sounds with a funk-infused imagination and the twitchy disconnection of leaving home and everything behind. (Bill Cummings)
26. Arlo Parks – Collapsed In Sunbeams
Showcases the obvious talent of Arlo Parks who writes subtle yet immediate and impactful neo-soul hits. (Matt Hobbs)
25. Israel Nash – Topaz
So good that it can, and does, whisk you off to a better, simpler place where everything is all right with the world. (Loz Etheridge)
24. Siobhan Wilson – Survivre
The follow up LP to 2019’s The Departure, Siobhan Wilson has put together her strongest collection of songs yet, from the minimalist opener ‘Unload the Gun’ performed solo and live that leads into the epic string soaked ‘My Kiss Is Not a Messenger’ this is a heart-on-sleeve rollercoaster. A classical voice set over contemporary music, Siobhan has an angelic delivery and incredible range. A personal highlight is penultimate song ‘Warning Signs‘ which has the eerie orchestral foreboding that would suit James Bond’s funeral, the John Barry influence is strong.
The whole record has the feel of a dark and stormy night on the Scottish coast where Siobhan lived for a while. Atmospheric and intricate. (Jim Auton)
23. Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy & Matt Sweeney – Superwolves
Sixteen years after releasing their cult classic Superwolf, American musicians Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy and Matt Sweeney reconvened to produce yet another masterwork in the form of Superwolves. Some 60 months in gestation, Superwolves is a carefully conceived and most beautifully created record, complementing and developing the subtle textures and phrasing of its older sibling. The close artistic connection between, and the melodic versatility of the two men can be heard as they effortlessly shift musical gears between delicate folk, country, Americana and deeper shades of psychedelic rock. (Simon Godley)
22. Karima Walker – Waking The Dreaming Body
A brave reawakening from a life temporarily placed on hold affirms Waking The Dreaming Body as a record for our times. (Simon Godley)
21. Idiac – Part Idiot
As though Aphex Twin has boarded the carriage, pushed the driver out of their seat and taken everyone on a detour along death-defying mountain trails and at high speed through magical tunnels. It’s really quite thrilling. (Loz Etheridge)
20. Lael Neale – Acquainted With Night
Acquainted With Night captures the human spirit with all of its flaws and struggle, yearning and questioning of its own mortality: it is both nakedly personal to Virginian native Lael Neale and universal at the same time. (Bill Cummings)
19. Dry Cleaning – New Long Leg
Dry Cleaning’s guitarist, bassist and drummer had been at it for the last 12 years, making music in various bands. Thanks to a mutual friend they were introduced to Florence Shaw, a visual artist and drawing lecturer who started contributing her words to the project, reading them out as poetry in her eerie, funny, inimitable way. They sensibly made her frontwoman. With Shaw, Dry Cleaning has become not just an itchy, melodic post-punk act (which is enjoyable in and of itself) rather something totally distinct from their contemporaries. (Richard Wiggins)
18. The Felice Brothers – From Dreams To Dust
Another captivating album from the New Yorkers and here, they’re starting to feel like favourite old friends who’ve just turned up on your doorstep but want to talk about death. Despite this, they’re still tremendous fun to be around, and long may that continue. (Loz Etheridge)
17. Kiwi Jr. – Cooler Returns
Kiwi Jr are sending over the kind of shot in the arm we actually need to lift those moods from the doldrums where they linger and fester till black and mouldy. Because even a few tracks from this utter beauty of an LP and you’re grinning like the richest of those Alderley Edge Cheshire Fat Cats locking down in their palatials with indoor swimming pools and home cinema rooms. And big ovens to cook lots of cake and banana bread. (Jim Auton)
16. JOHN – Nocturnal Manoeuvres
Playing a raw, earthy brand of punk rock, nobody could ever accuse JOHN of being flashy. They are just two down-to-earth guys, who just happen to have some of the best riffage in the business. (Simon Moyse)
15. Hannah Peel – Fir Wave
Hannah Peel harnesses all of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop composers and electronic pioneers Delia Derbyshire and Brian Hodgson‘s vivid experimentation and innovation on Fir Wave, translating and magnifying their vision into a glorious wash of futuristic sound. (Simon Godley)
14. We Are Scientists – Huffy
I’ve always liked We Are Scientists, they always felt like a comfy old pair of slippers – totally reliable to do the job required without too much fuss. So it came as something of a surprise to me that Huffy, their seventh album, no less, turned out to be their best yet. And yes, there are some unexpected turns of events here, such as the Family Of The Year-like summer pop gem ‘Sentimental Education‘ and the fabulous ‘Bought Myself A Grave‘ which starts a little like the Broken Family Band or maybe even a jangly Miles Hunt solo number, but within a couple of minutes we’ve been transported to a nightclub with loud, throbbing basslines and proof that vocoders don’t always have to be vomit inducing. Huffy is full of splendid 3-4 minute pop sparklers and ‘Pandemonium‘ might even be the catchiest song of 2021. (Loz Etheridge)
13. Julien Baker – Little Oblivions
Julien Baker‘s use of loop pedals and reverb guitar and keyboards, alongside her powerful but also sometimes delicate vocals, makes her a compelling and remarkable performer that can strike deep emotion. (Lucy Bennett)
12. Drug Store Romeos – The World Within Our Bedrooms
This record is hypnotic, it gets its hooks in and takes you through the looking glass. A fairground organ that feels Magic Roundabout trippy. A nursery rhyme element to the minimal, gentle keys and almost whispered vocals. (Jim Auton)
11. Cassandra Jenkins – An Overview On Phenomenal Nature
“The water it cures everything”, the Brooklyn-based musician, singer and songwriter suggests on ‘New Bikini’ over a shimmering haze of delicate psychedelic-folk. You feel that Cassandra Jenkins could have just as easily been talking about the album itself. (Simon Godley)
10. Anna B Savage – A Common Turn
Anna B Savage has a voice that could stop traffic. Finely exhibited half way through ‘Corncrakes’ where everything drops away, there is nothing but silence, the world stops turning and you could hear a pin drop and then Anna comes in A Capella. The world starts up again. Maybe this is a metaphor of my own design for 2021 allowing the human race to start moving again, to begin seeing each other and for us all to converge in a room and listen and watch and live again.
A Common Turn delivers everything promised by the singles and that EP six years ago. It was worth the wait.
The stresses and strains have allowed for a work of pure art, that for the listener is a stunning cacophony and elixir for the ears. Hopefully Anna now reaps the rewards. An emigration away from life as a fledgling to become a fully grown bird, wings outstretched and ready to soar. (Jim Auton)
9. The Hold Steady – Open Door Policy
In some ways, Open Door Policy is a hark back to the days of 2006’s Boys And Girls In America and its 2005 predecessor Separation Sunday in that it is a heady mix of numbers with triumphantly uplifting choruses, and fascinating, gripping ones that don’t seem to have a refrain at all. I’ve often commented on how The Hold Steady’s songs are like the coolest cult movies, with Finn acting as the sometimes bemused, often amused observer of the characters’ sordid and/or sometimes devastating life choices and their consequences. This album has that in spades.
So yes, I admit I could reasonably be deemed a Hold Steady ‘fanboy’, but when the band consistently releases albums of such startling quality, how can I NOT carry on raving animatedly about how great they are? Open Door Policy, their eighth album, no less, sits right up there as one of their finest works yet. (Loz Etheridge)
8. Mogwai – As The Love Continues
Even as a long term fan, this was an album that took a bit of listening to – the first few listens leaving me with the feeling that maybe the second half of the album wasn’t as strong as the first. Persevere – because this is not the case. Perhaps they may reveal their charms after a few listens – but at this point in time, we all have lots of time to fill. Let’s face it, most of the albums we truly grow to love are the ones that require repeated listening.
Over a quarter of a century Mogwai have continued to delight and surprise. I await their next release with great anticipation, and it is clear a growing number of fans do too. As the final notes of reflective album closer ‘It’s What I Want To Do, Mum’ die away, it’s clear that Mogwai have – yet again – given us yet another amazing album. (Ed Jupp)
7. Nick Cave & Warren Ellis – Carnage
The coronavirus pandemic put paid to last year’s Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ tour of Europe and the UK, and the void that it left filled Cave with nothing but fear and uncertainty. Yet out of this artistic vacuum Carnage did you eventually emerge. Created by the Bad Seeds’ commander-in-chief and his trusty first lieutenant Warren Ellis, and indebted to the twin pillars of God and grief, Carnage is testament to the palliative powers of music. Responding as it does to a series of catastrophic events – in both the world at large and Cave’s life in particular – the duo’s first non-film score album is as powerful as it is defiant, a redemptive beacon of hope in a world that is otherwise going to hell in a hand cart. (Simon Godley)
6. The Anchoress – The Art of Losing
Welsh songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer, Catherine Anne Davies, The Anchoress, released her second studio album this spring and it deeply captured our hearts.
Inspired by loss and trauma, this is a collection of songs that are masterfully affective. They take grief and traumatic experience by the shoulders, shake it, pin it back, and ultimately look it deep in the eye. With the darkness though also comes beauty, with gorgeous melody simultaneously offering a balm for the heart as it cuts deep. Tracks such as ‘Unravel’, ‘5am’ and ‘The Heart is a Lonesome Hunter’ particularly made an impact on me. The production of the album, by The Anchoress, is particularly impressive, teasing out the layers of each song, with the overall soundscape beautifully Inspired by music from Scott Walker, Tori Amos, Manic Street Preachers (James Dean Bradfield is a guest vocalist on the album), and David Bowie. This is an astonishing record that stays with you long after each listen. Audacious, compassionate, and breath-taking. (Lucy Bennett)
5. W.H. Lung – Vanities
I think what sets W.H. Lung apart from most of their contemporaries right now is the amount of ‘heart’ that permeates their music. It’s at the very core of their being and it gives you a warm, fuzzy feeling that you just wish you could bottle and keep forever.
‘Somebody Like‘ is like a throwback to the early nineties and a surefire number one hit if it had been released at that time, and closing track ‘Kaya‘ is like an emotional farewell at the airport to an old friend or long distance lover – you’re sad that it’s over, at least until the next time, but the memories you’ve been left with are such happy ones that the world just seems a much better place to live in than it did without them.
Simply a stunning record. This band gets better and better. Who knows what they can go on to achieve from here? (Loz Etheridge)
4. Little Simz – Sometimes I Might Be Introvert
Sometimes I Might Be Introvert is Little Simz‘s best record yet. Simz doesn’t just find a voice, she finds a defining sound that mixes the melting brew of London. She bravely stands in the crosshairs of injustice, prejudice and the march of the right-wing and tears it down and builds herself up to the top of the mountain in the process. This is her moment and she seizes it. While Sometimes I Might Be Introvert is informed by modern-day Britain, Grime and Hip Hop that speaks to the experiences of being young and black in the UK, it has that in common with the likes of Dave, yet its sound is rooted in an old school of A Tribe Called Quest and Erykah Badu, artists who could effortlessly blur sounds and it forges a tapestry as grand as 70s records by Curtis Mayfield and Stevie Wonder. Yes, it’s that good.
After honing her craft over a decade, Simz steps out of her introversion and speaks to everything with a relatable big heart on the sleeve and a visceral intent that speaks to universal issues of trauma, inequality and growth of an artist and the experiences of a black woman. She’s a teacher standing firm in the tumult of 2021, documenting the tensions of dichotomies, introversion and the fear of speaking out and possessing the bravery it takes to call it out, the extremes of social media, Black lives matter and speaks to frustration, injustice and the struggle to be heard. Little Simz audaciously puts her own heart on the line and in the process she ascends to her place as one of the best artists in the country. This is the sound of 2021. (Bill Cummings)
Rebecca Lucy Taylor (AKA Self Esteem) has had quite the journey since uploading her first demo to BBC Introducing back in 2017 – since then, she’s released an album, made her Maida Vale debut and performed at Glastonbury.The album was announced back in July, alongside the release of its title track – with glitching synths and lyrics about putting yourself first, ‘Prioritise Pleasure’ is a powerful track that well and truly set us up for the huge sound of the album. Other singles included the anthemic ‘Moody’, which possesses some of the albums wittiest lyrics (“sexting you at the mental health talk seems counterproductive”), a vulnerable spoken word number titled ‘I Do This All The Time’ that explores how complicated it is to be a human and the blistering ‘How Can I Help You’. With pummeling beats and cathartic lyrics that take aim at the misogynistic standards and objectification that women are subjected to, ‘How Can I Help You’ was accompanied by a self-directed video that sees Taylor behind the drum kit – a statement of empowerment that allows her to reclaim how she used to feel self-conscious playing them.
Prioritise Pleasure is a pop masterpiece and it’s safe to say that there’s no other artist out there doing what Taylor is doing as Self Esteem. (Laura Dean)
2. Japanese Breakfast – Jubilee
Michelle Zauner has always been an uninhibited writer; it forms the backbone of her work. After mourning her mother’s death on Psychopomp and slowly moving forward on Soft Sounds, we’re used to her compelling honesty and humanity. Jubilee often sees Michelle welcome optimism whilst having a freedom to follow her impulses to explore new themes. This positivity is carried over into the most expansive and grandest music of her career. These progressions in scope and design are seamless, and in-line with the vision Michelle talked about before Jubilee’s release.
Jubilee is a stunning and bold step-up that firmly cements Michelle as one of music’s most gifted songwriters, composers and performers. Be sweet to this one, we need more like her.(Jonathan Wright)
1. Desperate Journalist – Maximum Sorrow!
In a similar vein to their third album, Desperate Journalist have named their fourth release after a phrase borrowed from a visual artist – this time Internet artist Kevin Bewersdorf. Bewersdorf’s work was dominated by images of corporate branding, seeming intent on sucking you in, beguiling you into maxing out on screen time and cybergawp – the modern sorrow industry.
Desperate Journalist frequently hammer you in the places you really don’t mind being hit, with tracks like ‘Hollow’ on Grow Up or ‘Jonatan’ on In Search of the Miraculous. Unsurprisingly, there’s plenty of life’s baleful maelstrom here. The first single from the album, ‘Fault’ provides full-band turmoil, Jo Bevan acknowledging, “Teenage hang-ups are hard to beat/ When your closet’s piled up with defeat.” Rob Hardy wrings maximum sorrow out of a single guitar. Simon Drowner’s bassline and Caz Hellbert’s drumline are both relentless, like the inner and external world they portray. Throughout, the rhythm section excels.
‘Utopia’ couldn’t feel much more dystopian if it started telling us that we’re living in The Truman Show. ‘Poison Pen’ is a tide of ire that asks of the privileged, “Oh, you venerated writer/Could your knighthood be much whiter?” Beneath the crossfire of Bevan’s wail and the turbulent instrumentation, we hear the spoken word – a new addition to Desperate Journalist’s composition.
This truth-telling cuts through at moments when we could get lost in the sonic sorrow and adds an extra level of directness to their message. We find it on ‘What You’re Scared Of’ with its beautiful melancholic Björk ‘Birthday’ stylings and on ‘Personality Girlfriend’. There’s a wee bit of Britpop in this one, but not 1996 Britpop – more like what Britpoppers probably feel like twenty-five years on: far more careworn. A bit like Sleeper, but Sleeper after taking a sleeper, and still having had a particularly bad night’s sleep.
As exclamations go, Maximum Sorrow! feels like it’s laced with that ironic, sardonic sense of ‘Yay! Thanks, universe! What next? Can’t wait…’ There are no phrases about ‘difficult’ fourth albums, but there’s always a question about what a band can do differently with a winning sound. The answer, for Desperate Journalist, is to ramp up the emotional reverb to the max. Winningly. (Jon Kean)