Here is my list of my favourite albums of 2021, a rich and varied list which, after the top ten, the order doesn’t matter so much as all of these albums excited me in some way this year! It’s been a really tough few years for musicians, one study said 60,000 musicians have been forced to seek alternative employment during the pandemic and with the inequalities of streaming and the issue of Brexit making it harder to tour and the lockdown of live shows again, it’s set to get more difficult. So if you can support any of the artists by buying their music or merch. Thank you!
Little Simz – Sometimes I Might Be Introvert
Sometimes I Might Be Introvert isn’t just one of the best British records you will hear this year, it’s one of the best records you will hear this year, full stop. Wonderfully produced, it skirts the lines of soul, hip hop and the African continent, maybe there are a couple of tracks that don’t land quite as hard, but it’s so warmly drawn that this varied transcendent bricolage of sound could have been produced at any point over the last thirty years.
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.
Japanese Breakfast – Jubilee
Michelle Zauner took her sound up a notch with ‘Jubilee’. ‘Be Sweet’ is grooving, electro-pop powered by a funky baseline and illuminating synths. “I want to believe in something” sings Zauna with a glint in her eye; is it a reference to the X-Files or a plea to a lover for better treatment? Whatever the case it’s damn infectious! While ‘Paprika’ and ‘Komono, In’ explore sophisticated pop landscapes and personal narratives.
Zauner says: “After spending the last five years writing about grief, I wanted our follow-up to be about joy. For me, a third record should feel bombastic and so I wanted to pull out all the stops for this one. I wrote ‘Be Sweet’ with Jack Tatum from Wild Nothing a few years ago. I’ve been holding onto it for so long and am so excited to finally put it out there.”
Lael Neale – Acquainted with night
With all unconnected sound and production removed and recorded on a four-track – an extraordinary testament in itself – 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 Neale and universal at the same time. It speaks to the contrast between the vastness of a city you can get lost in, with communities that hold the human connections. At a time of tragedy and gruelling isolation, when we have been huddled up alone for vast periods of time, this album offers a flickering light of hope that things will be OK in the future.
If you squint it sounds a little like a lo-fi Lana Del Rey or Mazzy Star chiseled down to its bare bones; add the distinctive omnichord and personal revelations delivered by Lael Neale’s unique voice then it’s in its own orbit and very special indeed. This subtle approach is contrasted by the cinematic grandeur and sense of space with which she imbues each song, as Neale reaches toward the transcendent experience with a vivid and emotional clarity.
Magdalena Bay – Mecurial 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.
The Anchoress – The Art of losing
Urgent and visceral and encapsulating a grief-stricken time of trauma and loss for Catherine Davies, who consumes her experience and delivers rapier prose over an a tapestry of sounds. From the superb title track that’s pirouetting percussive loop and pointy fingered synth lines is affecting and dramatic, to the dark melodrama of ‘Unravel‘ laden with string stabs and a creeping sense of dread, ‘The Exchange‘ an epic duet with James Dean Bradfield and the achingly haunting piano led ‘5AM‘ that according to Davies is about the “all too universal to the experience of women: domestic abuse, sexual assault and the loss of a child“, this was an audacious album that spoke to universal themes, confronts gaslighters and tapped into the #metoo movement in the depths of lockdown, in a quite majestic way.
Desperate Journalist – Maximum Sorrow
More expansive and more subtle than previous releases but this expanded atmosphere housed some their most sterling songs yet and that’s saying something. The stunning ‘Fault‘ is armorplated post punk swirl, while ‘Personality Girlfriend’ was one of the years best songs and vocal performances from Jo Bevan. While the enveloping ‘Utopia‘ is full to the brim of wistful existentialist feeling and widescreen backdrops. Superb.
Lonelady – Former things
Former Things is more jagged and more beat-driven, based on the electronic collision of synths and guitars as it implants the vintage synth sounds of early New Order, Pet Shop Boys, and Depeche Mode with a funk-infused imagination influenced by Jam and Lewis-era Janet Jackson, Prince and the twitchy disconnection of leaving home and everything behind.
UV- TV – Always something
UV-TV – New York City trio UV-TV released their exhilarating third album Always Something earlier this year.
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. It fizzes with the effervescent power-pop of Blondie and
The Primitives, melodies that touch on early R.E.M. or the guitar sounds of Jesus and Mary Chain. It’s an album that plugs into sounds of the 80s and 90s but unlike much of the lad bands that populate this year’s festival lineups, it sounds utterly infectious and refreshing. A release of frustration after eighteen months of lockdown, it’s a supercharged guitar album ripe with bittersweet life-affirming melodies, it’s the kind of record that can restore your faith in the ability of guitar music to excite.
Maple Glider – To Enjoy Is The Only Thing
A late discovery in the year Austrialian vocalist and song writer Maple Glider has a voice that can melt hearts, and songs imbued with a sense of humour, heartbreak, distance and empathy that can enlighten and affect you in equal measure. Glider vignettes of her life; growing up in a restrictive religious household, falling in an out of love, interstate and international relocations, the new perspectives travel can bring along with the alienation of being away from the familiar.
Lou Hayter – Private Sunshine
Lou Hayter first made her mark professionally as keyboardist for the Mercury-nominated New Young Pony Club, before going on to form the New Sins with Nick Phillips and Tomorrow’s World with Air’s JB Dunckel.
Now she is striking out solo, skillfully mining a brand of sophisticated and infectious synth-pop that taps into the Jam and Lewis era of Janet Jackson and the knowing suites of pop explored by the likes of Goldfrapp and Pet Shop Boys. The sumptuous title track, ‘Private Sunshine‘, is a breathy cloud of French touch tinged pop wistfulness. It’s the follow up to the confident funky grooves, knowing hooky refrains, and sparkling synths of ace previous single ‘My Baby Just Cares For Me’. Elsewhere the sax laden groove ‘Telephone’ struts infectiously to capture someone’s heart, while the sugary sweet melodies of ‘Cherry on Top’ is bursting with infatuated shimmering possibilities woven with house flavours.
With this clutch of brilliant singles, her debut solo album is a treasure trove of refreshing slinky sunshine flecked pop sounds that surf the lines of disco, 70s, and synth-pop and cuts it into a colourful pattern that will brighten up your day and get your feet moving.
Rodeola – Arlene
Erika De Casier – Sensational
Carwyn Ellis & Rio 16- Mas
The Weather Station – Ignorance
Faye Webster – I know I’m funny haha
Bachelor – Doomin’ Summer
Pip Blom – Welcome Break
LIPS – I don’t know why I do anything
Genesis Owusu – Smiling with no teeth
Chvrches – Screen Violence
Midwife – Luminol
Ada Lea – one hand on the steering wheel the other sewing a garden
Floating Points – Promises
Nick Cave & Warren Ellis – Carnage
Glume – The Internet
Sons of Kemet – Black to the future
Lunar Vacation – Inside every fig is a dead wasp
Fog Lake – Tragedy Reel
Koreless – Agor
L’imperatice – Tako Tsubu
Dry Cleaning – New Long Leg
Piroshka – Love Drips and Gathers
Audiobooks – Astro Tough
Wednesday – Twin Plagues
Art School Girlfriend – Is it light where you are
Nina Savary – Next Level Soap Opera
Dave – We’re all alone in this together
Jane Weaver – Flock
Ritual Cloak – Divine Invasions
Foxx bodies – Vixen
Everything By Electricity – Time Without Time
Claud – Super Monster
Manic Street preachers – Ultra Vivid Lament
Sweet Nobody – Loud songs for quiet People
Quivers – Golden Doubt
Afrocluster – The Reach
CHAI – Wink
Mace the Great – My side of the bridge
Alice Phoebe Lou – Glow
The Altered Hours – Convertible
Favourite EPs /mini albums (in no order)
The Bug club – Pure Particles
Foxgluvv – Deep dive
Sassy0009 – Heart Ego
New Dad – Waves
Beach Bunny – Blame Game
Julia Sophia – </3
Phoenix Rise – Duality
Bleach lab – A Calm Sense of Surrounding
Melin Melyn – Blomonj
Kayla Painter – Somewhen
Ailsa Tullly – Holy Isle
Eve Goodman – Wave upon Wave