Friday, December 31, 2021

Albums of the year: 2021 Round-up

A note from the founder: 2021 has been a tumultuous year, to say the least, but luckily for us, music was here as a vital crux to help us through. With personal highlights including Arlo Parks, Griff and Frank Carter and the Rattlesnakes, 2021 is sure to be a sonic year to go down in the history books.

Thank you to all of our readers who have stuck with us through this crazy little year, and here's to hoping for a cracking 2022!

Here, fourteen of our contributors round up their favourite album releases of the year.


Faye Webster - 'I Know I'm Funny, haha'

Faye Webster does it again with ‘I Know I’m Funny Haha’. The 24 year old Atlanta, Georgia-based musician has been at the forefront of the alternative country movement, alongside artists like Waxahatchee and Orville Peck, and her third and latest release on Secretly Canadian might be her best yet. 

Intimate, understated, and filled with a surprisingly successful lounge influence, she waxes poetic about her relationships, family, and the mundanity of being in your mid-20s. The combination of lounge, R&B, country, and folk sensibilities is most successful on tracks like ‘Cheers’ and ‘In a Good Way’. Altogether, ’I Know I’m Funny haha’ is an album that is both comfortingly nostalgic and uniquely Faye Webster.

Charlie Alexandra - @charlottesometimes



James – ‘All The Colours of You’


Four decades since their formation, James are still making brilliantly inventive, effortlessly hook-laden pop music, and ‘All The Colours of You’ is no exception.

 

The pandemic looms large throughout the album, offering a new twist on quintessential James themes like mortality, loss, faith and commitment. Tracks like ‘Recover’ and ‘Zero’ are subtle, poignant and affecting, and yet they’re able to sit comfortably alongside ‘Wherever It Takes Us’ and ‘Beautiful Beaches’, songs as anthemic as anything in the band’s back-catalogue.

 

Time, distance and age are yet to blunt James’s creative edge, and despite being recorded under difficult circumstances (at one point every band member was stuck in a different country due to Covid lockdowns), ‘All The Colours of You’ is a fresh and captivating record, aided by Jacknife Lee’s excellent production.

 

Tom Kirkham - www.tomkirkham.co.uk / @finestworktom




Lucy Dacus - ‘Home Video’


With beautifully constructed narratives and a plethora of fully-fledged characters, Lucy Dacus’ ‘Home Video’ is a beautiful exploration of the hardships of adolescence. Often acknowledged through her part in BoyGenius with Julien Baker and Phoebe BridgersDacus shows her individual brilliance throughout as she delves into her journals to understand her childhood, religion, and relationships.


Underpinned by impeccable storytelling, ‘Home Video’ engages with difficult experiences as each track feels like a short film. Whether its a subtle line regarding sleeve-length or make-up on the astonishing ‘VBS’ or the longer form recollections, such as the violently angry ‘Thumbs’ and ‘Triple Dog Darethe 45 minute duration flies by as you’re engrossed in the earnest and the heartbreaking.


Dan Hayes - @_dphayes




Benjamin Francis Leftwich - 'To Carry A Whale'


Benjamin Francis Leftwich’s music came to me when I needed it most. I remember hearing the track ‘Tilikum’ during a particularly low state of mind in lockdown. Therefore, the release of ‘To Carry A Whale’ was the most important date in 2021 for me. The album begins with the soaring single ‘Cherry In Tacoma’. This track is classic Leftwich with intricate layers of synths and guitars. Other favourites include ‘Canary In A Coalmine’ which feels as if Johnny Marr and Elliott Smith sat down together to write a folk song. 

 

If you’re a lover of classic, well-crafted songwriting and enjoy wallowing in a state of wistfulness, check out Benjamin’s work.


Euan Blackman - @euanblackman Instagram // @euan_blackman Twitter 




Sam Fender - ‘Seventeen Going Under’


Sam Fender’s sophomore album, ‘Seventeen Going Under’, is a gut punching introspective on mental health and political disenchantment that has captured the world’s hearts and ears.


Songs like ‘The Leveller’ and ‘Aye’ break the North-South divide and encapsulates the suspicion that no matter how well-intended we are, we still live in a neo-feudal system in which we remain powerless to the malicious untouchable ruling class.


Fender has helped reinstate the North East as a rightful cultural powerhouse. If the floodgates open for the boundless talent that the North East offers, we can thank Sam Fender for opening the world’s ears.


Max Bover - @maximillian299




Halsey - If I Cant Have Love I Want Power’


With a critically acclaimed discography already behind her, Halsey’s ‘If I Can’t Have Love I Want Power’ is another triumph for the genre-bending songstress.


Cleverly chaotic instrumentation and tense production set the backdrop for Halsey to express conflicting emotions surrounding pregnancy, childbirth and motherhood: endless love, overwhelming gratitude, intense fear and high anxiety. Made in collaboration with Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, this is the album that Halsey has “always wanted to make”. 


The result? 13 richly layered tracks, powerfully embellished with poetic metaphors as well as defiantly direct lyricism. It is arguably their most mature, personal and vulnerable work to date, and strongly reflects their evolution as an artist. 


Rachel Feehan - @rachiefee @rachel_feehan




Dry Cleaning - 'New Long Leg'


The release earlier this year of Dry Cleaning’s debut ‘New Long Leg’ may be the most excited I’ve been about a new band in quite some time. Coming out of nowhere with an incredible debut that’s as powerful as it is divisive. Anyone I know who has listened to it has either hated it or played it on repeat for months on end, myself being the latter.


Effortlessly cool spoken vocals from front woman Florence Shaw over an array of creative and driven guitar, bass, and drums, this album is all about the music and yet will have you singing the strangest lyrics to yourself after it’s become ingrained in your brain. Random but stylishly punctuated sentiments like “I’ve come here to make a ceramic shoe / And I’ve come to smash what you made” will somehow become your new favourite lyrics if you fall under their post-punk spell.


Aoife McMahon




Clairo - 'Sling'

Following up on her masterful 2019 debut album ‘Immunity’, Clairo released her sophomore record ‘Sling’ earlier this year. The album makes for one of the most heart-wrenching LP of the year. Teeming with Clairo’s notoriously sorrowful song writing and Jack Antonoff’s otherworldly co-production, ‘Sling’ tackles many social issues such as misogyny and the male gaze, whilst also offering upbeat instrumentals and radio hits.

What makes this record such a great pick is how Clairo writes as if she is the voice of the new generation, cementing herself as such by subtly but vividly using her position as a famous musician to sing about the melancholy that many young people feel in the modern day – exemplifying that she is a relatable figurehead.

Dillon Walsh - @dillon._.walsh


Madame - 'Madame'

Including singles ‘MAREA’ and Premio Tenco for Best Single winner at San Remo Music Festival ‘VOCE’, ‘Madame’ is one of the best albums of this year. Her lines are blunt, her sound chill and elegant. Madame’s chameleonic flow soaks Italian old catholic bias and smoothly washes away its distorted family depiction. A well-deserved hero for Italy’s darkest hours since DDL Zan against homo-transphobia has been rejected by the not-so-representative government, and here she is: Madame.  

Martina Bovetta - @lulinabulina


Black Country, New Road - 'For The First Time'

The London septet Black Country, New Road is firing on sliders on this project, merging social critique and contemporary nostalgia in youth culture with funny personal narratives, and both indie and popular culture references. Anchoring it with manic yet self-assured vocals that invite and dare you to take even its most ridiculous lyrics seriously.

The instrumentals flaunt a flamboyant, controlled chaos, incorporating post-punk inspired guitars, math rock inspired drums, no-wave bass grooves and jazzy piano and sax solos, invoking an improvisational feel. 'For the first time' is a rapturous embrace of the beauty and folly of youth, as well as an ode to experimentation.

Kenneth Butcher - @kazu_kb


For Those I Love – 'For Those I Love'

David Balfe a.k.a. For Those I Love’s self-titled debut provides a fantastic change of direction within the currently post-punk-centric Irish music scene, taking it in a different direction with his Mike Skinner-esque delivery of poetic lyrics over electronic dance music accompaniments.

A record infused with grief following the tragic death of his friend and fellow poet-musician Paul Curran, Balfe speaks of topics such as depression, love, poverty, and community. These profound topics surprisingly combine perfectly with Balfe’s danceable production, particularly on ‘I Have A Love’, ‘Top Scheme’, and ‘Birthday / The Pain’. Simultaneously crushingly intimate and beautifully universal, ‘For Those I Love’ is a singular record well worth the 46-minute listen. 

David Harrold - https://linktr.ee/davidh214 



‘Daddy’s Home’ – St Vincent

Sultry vocals and woozy instrumentals dominate as Annie Clark aka St Vincent takes listeners on a guided tour of 70s psychedelia and funk on one of her best records to date. From the bluesy title track, ‘Daddy’s Home’, through to the Pink Floyd-esque ‘Live In The Dream’, past the defiantly groovy ‘Down’, and the dreamy ‘Candy Darling’

St Vincent pays homage to a decade of glam rock and glitterballs, punctuating it with her signature sizzling guitar lines, and creating something that is distinctly her own. It serves as both an excellent introduction to her increasingly eclectic discography, and a stellar standalone album.

Sarah Taylor - @tayl0rsarah



Joy Crookes - 'Skin'

'Skin' is Joy Crookes's first full-length album. The 23-year-old has crafted an elegant musical project that at once paints vivid scenes of heartache, offers political meditations, and pays homage to her South London roots. 

It showcases a masterful combination of sultry and Amy Winehouse-esque vocals with a retro neo-soul and jazz sound. Even the most personal tracks, 'Unlearn You' and 'I Don't Mind', never veer into clich√©, grounded as they are by a sense of genuine vulnerability. The song writing and storytelling are gorgeous and vivid, spinning worlds against the backdrop of her hometown. 

 

‘Skin’ reveals Joy Crookes to be that rare thing - a fully realised and confident new artist with heaps of talent and charisma to back it up. 

 

 

Eleanor Burleigh - @eleanoranneb




Architects – ‘For Those That Wish To Exist


Riddled with deep complementation of mass extinction and the ever-impending effects of climate change, Architects released their ninth studio album, ‘For Those That Wish To Exist’ in February and it did not disappoint. Since 2004, the Brighton band have cemented their role in the metalcore scene with releases such as ‘All Our God’s Have Abandoned Us’ and ‘Holy Hell’ blurring the lines between alternative metal and post-hardcore.


‘For Those That Wish To Exist’ feels like a fresh start to the band, entering a new chapter without guitarist Tom Searle after his passing. The album mixes melodic, orchestral moments with sonic waves but is still in keeping with the heaviness that is established with Architects. Often cynical and thought-provoking this album is nothing short of epic, cinematic and a must-listen.


Ana Joy King - @anajoyking

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