Lump On - 2021 Music Wrap Up
2021 MUSIC WRAP UP
Due to Covid restrictions, I had tasked myself with actively keeping up with album releases in a way that I hadn’t done for a few years. This is in addition to going back through the winding history of music and listening to music that I had either long slept on or held up classics that I — for whatever reason — had just never listened to. I think as you get older it becomes a bigger task to keep a handle on what is happening and relevant (without falling too far into the double dry hopped, existential pit of Radio 6) and after drinking enough coffee to prompt heart palpations — leading me to booking a Dr’s appointment — i discovered a B12 deficiency, so if nothing else - the healing power of music shines through.
Before I jump into talking about 5 of my favourite records of this year I want to start with a short list of my favourite EP’s. I think they can get overlooked on lists like these and each of these is worth listening to in my opinion so get cracking. Theres singer/songwriter, artistic weird stuff and dance so jump in and see what you fancy.
Madeline Kenney - Summer Quarter
Hand Habits - Dirt
Billy nomates - Emergency telephone
Shreddies - FIDOFRIDAFAUNAFLORA
Do Nothing - Glueland EP
Show me the body - Survive
Lost Girls - Menneskekollektivet
Personal Trainer - Gazebo
There was so much great music released in 2021 and my initial goal of trying to listen to more new music than I had in years was a resounding success. It was quite hard narrowing down all the music I loved this year into an article that wasn’t 60 pages of me gushing and I would absolutely love to talk at length and in detail about the multiple albums each month that would make up my full AOTY, but in the interest of making this in any way readable i’m just gonna talk about a small handful of defining albums which will act as my five AOTY for 2021 (I’ll add a month by month breakdown in the form of a list at the end in case you want a nosey judge of all my favourite releases).
As it stands now I’m at home with Covid isolating over Christmas so there’s nothing better to do then dig through my memories of this years music and see what actually made an impression. So grab a lateral flow and follow my lead as I cast my mind back over the months of pandemic delirium to highlight some of the records that made an impression on me.
Shame - Drunk Tank Pink
Listen to: March Day, 6/1, Born in Luton
The in vogue sounds of post-punk are always going to draw comparisons to bands of days gone by and the post-punk elite seem to be getting more and more relevant as that corner of music grows in size. Unfortunately for us this often ends in a boring re-hash that sounds like something that might have been interesting 40 years ago. However, what Shame have managed to do on Drunk Tank Pink is create an album that wields that influence unashamed, while also improving every aspect of themselves sonically and lyrically. The result is a sound the re-affirms rather than rips off and waves a flag for the heritage it loves. Shame’s sound on their sophomore record was tempered and seasoned in equal parts. The addition of a maturity and introspection which was sometimes lacking on the first album has been balanced perfectly with a Byrne-esque play-fullness and rounding off of the snarling teenage sneer present in their first outing. A band executing a sound which would have been so easy to make boring in an excitingly effective way.
There is a secret ingredient for me when it comes to deciding if I love an album or a song. A characteristic that, when included, instantly makes a song more compelling for me: Naivety - and in the same sense, delicacy. Bare with me. A perfect example of this is New Order/Joy Division and more specifically: the song Ceremony, genuinely one of my all time favourite songs. The parts of that song themselves are so simple and the songwriting even unsophisticated at times, but the feeling of emotional fragility that is created inside of that song is one of the most moving things I have personally ever experienced from listening to music. However, you change one part of that song and the whole thing falls apart. If that guitar and bass is overly written one tiny little bit more than it needs to be then the delicate nature of that song doesn’t exist. My guess is that sometimes this can come from a natural vulnerability that happens to manifest itself in a startlingly visceral, very imperfectly human way, if anyone could ever replicate this on purposefully consistent basis then they would honestly be up there with one of the best artists of all time in my opinion. But when I hear an artist choose to use this as an artistic choice I honestly love it. It’s a bias which helps define my taste and although the next pick doesn’t even come close to reaching those heights, it is drenched in that sweetness and maybe now you understand the context.
Parannoul - To see the next part of the dream
Listen to: Beautiful world, White Ceiling, Youth Rebellion
This record came out of nowhere for me and was one of the most emotionally tender albums I heard all year, and if it is shoe-gaze - which I have seen it described by others online - then it is the most interesting and effective shoe-gaze releases in a very long time. The sounds of the heavier guitars on certain points on the album certainly lineup with the harder tinged contemporary shoe gaze sounds that have been heard over the last few years. But I feel like this album is largely undefinable. The Shoe-gaze is there in the form of the huge distorted guitars mostly, but it is supplemented with a large amount other influences - even pop punk and midwest emo at certain times. The reason this album is one of my AOTY has less to do with specifics around instrumentation, production or vocals - which are in Korean anyway. But more to do with how masterfully and purposefully it creates this emotional setting that it places you inside. The emotions of the music here are tender and transparent — which is so impressive considering how easy it would be to slip into Melo-drama and caricature, especially due the pop-punk/emo inspired guitar present at points — even whilst the aesthetics of the sound can be coarse. The decision to blow out the drums and the guitars being often woollen allow Parannoul to contextualise the emotional message of the album in a way that doesn’t tread too closely towards done before emo feels. It’s so interesting to me. In my opinion made all the more impressive by the fact that - due to the vocals being in Korean - I have no idea what is even being said in the vocals. This record sounds like a magnetic snapshot in gloomy, melancholic time, similar to how it feels to read certain works by authors like Murakami. This is an album to listen to while driving at just that right time, when the light dwindling in the sky makes you feel just that little bit more open. It might not be everybody’s taste but in my opinion it is an absolute gem. It creates its own space and nails it.
Courtney Barnett - Things Take Time, Take Time
Listen to: Write a list of things to look forward to, If I don’t hear from you tonight, Before you gotta go
One of the things I love about Courtney Barnett is what she chooses to write her songs about. The lyrics always seem to highlight and romanticise stark normality. Wether it’s just being bored, viewing houses or going to the supermarket she has a knack of singing about shared experience that is impossible not to relate to. Things Take Time, Take Time, is no-where near her most critically acclaimed work — the songs seem to have mellowed out a tad since her last effort in 2018 — and if I am being honest it’s an album largely carried by the strength of a handful of songs, rather than the whole - mostly the singles. There are times on the album where the trademark mellow, relaxed sounding vocal delivery doesn’t have the catchy song surrounding it, but that doesn’t happen enough for me not to fall in love with this album. When the songs are hitting the mark, this is Courtney Barnett at her most direct, the melodic hooks are delivered with an effortless efficiency which proves that the mellow nature of some of the tracks don’t betray a loss of level. The charm and appeal of everything on offer here is most evident — for me — in the first few moments of Before you gotta go and Write a list of things to look forward to where it is precisely the simplicity and directness of the melodic hooks which create the sense of sweetness and sincerity which permeate her work. The sentiment on this record is largely: It’s okay now, or it will be some day. And because of her talent for turning what are sometimes the most hollow moments of life into the most rich, I can’t see an album by her ever not being one of my AOTY. Before you gotta go, go, go, go / I wanted you to know, know, know, know / You're always on my mind / If somethin' were to happen, my dear / I wouldn't want the last words you hear To be unkind. She takes simple and makes it touching.
ICEAGE - Seek Shelter
Listen to: The holding hand, Shelter song, Dear saint Cecilia
Seek Shelter might be one of the biggest musical surprises of 2021. I’ve been aware of the band since 2014’s Plowing Into The Field Of Love was released (such a crap name by the way, wow). But it wasn’t until the song Pain Killer was released in 2018, when they really grabbed my attention. If you’ve never listened to ICEAGE before, make your way to a streaming page and listen to any of their songs before 2018, then go and listen to the song Painkiller. When I first heard that song I could not wrap my head around why a band capable of that we’re trying to do arty punk stuff. This leads us to January when they released the first single off the new record The Holding Hand. A slow, tension filled, questioning crawl that turns into a festival sized, brit pop inspired, rock banger with the goosebump evoking Oh limp wristed god, limp wristed god as the lead vocal hook and when the full album Seek Shelter dropped in May, the band were all but unrecognisable. There is only one song on Seek Shelter that dips under the four minute mark and the band fill this time with melody, strings, brass, gospel choirs and upwards building songwriting that often resolves itself in cathartic sing alongs and I still can’t believe this is an ICEAGE album. Every time I listen to this thing I find my self shocked that they waited this long to make music like this. I think it’s a shame that sometimes really talented musicians can seem to get lost inside their own attempts to be overly artistic — and I swear that so many artists stay away from melody out of pure spite — but on this record the band uses their talents to pen songs which sound like they’re more concerned with the listener than with themselves. They take the sounds of brit-pop and classic rock and mix them with their own more artistic flavourings to produce one of the best rock albums released in years in my opinion. Elias Bender Rønnenfelt still fills these songs with religious imagery and his spiritual ambiguity that are ICEAGE hallmarks; lyrics such as on High and Hurt: Will the circle be unbroken / By and by, lord, by and by / There’s another home awaiting / In the sky, lord, in the sky and I think that — when put against this more melodic music and vocals — Elias’s questioning and searching lyrics have more room to breathe and are actually more effective in this format. I feel like the only thing holding this album back from being more widely enjoyed is the unfortunate fact that Elias’s voice still might not exactly be radio quality. However, if they can jump this far in sound then who knows what can come next. Ultimately, for me this record feels like a flex from a band that were languishing inside of mild critical success but not much more. If they can progress further than this, then their ceiling is out of sight.
Cassandra Jenkins - An overview on phenomenal nature
Listen to: Hard Drive, New Bikini, The Ramble
There was a couple of albums that I was wrestling with whilst deciding what to take up my 5th spot. I am acutely aware that this list is pretty predictable and there’s so many albums I loved this year that my top 5 will probably change week by week until the dust has truly settled on 2021. I was thinking of picking something a bit out there and maybe trying to be a bit more interesting but if i’m being honest with myself there’s only two albums it could be. Because these are albums I wouldn’t have given my time to in any other year, and because of that change of taste, the 5th spot was either going to be Ignorance by The Weather Station or An overview on phenomenal nature by Cassandra Jenkins
Apart from one song Michelangelo this album was written over the course of one week alongside producer and multi-instrumentalist Josh Kaufman and the album focuses in on summer 2019 when she was about to go on tour with David Berman (Purple Mountains). Just before opening night she received news that he had committed suicide. This album deals with her emotions and actions in the immediate aftermath and through her attempts at unpacking the feelings around this specific event Cassandra Jenkins opens an exploration into the resolution of grief. The lyrics on this record help paint the specific picture: New Bikini highlights the constant good willed advice of others through different characters telling her that The water cures everything. The repetition of the lyrics here paining it in different lights throughout the song, highlighting the skepticism and optimism that we can approach peoples advice with. And the album continues in this way, mentioning multiple different ways of coping and nods towards mindfulness techniques. But rather than working on simply the resolution, the record places a large emphasis on the grief that always must stay after a traumatic event and does so in a beautiful way. Evident inside the song Ambiguous Norway is the lyric There's still something in the air / No matter where I go / You’re gone, you're everywhere. And that sets the tone for the musicianship and instrumental choices throughout the album. The saxophone and flute of Stuart Bogie winds and dances its way through the dream like meditative soundscapes present on this album in a way that creates the perfect contemplative, explorative space for the vocals and lyrics to exist in. The saxophone in particular is used masterfully to create an optimistic narrative that all at once sounds full of wonder, sorrow and acceptance of spaces inside of us that are allowed to be painful. This record on first listen — for me — didn’t sound like something I would get out of the more I listened to it. But it turned into one of the deepest of the year. This it without even mentioning one of the best tracks of the year Hard Drive. Also appreciated is the runtime: only half an hour. Which is perfect, without proper curation dreamy turns to dreary really fast in my opinion. What the album is trying to say is summed up beautifully by the closing track The Ramble, an instrumental track where all elements of the album are present apart from the vocals. Mixed in with sounds of nature, people walking on gravel and children playing, the saxophone leads us to the end of the album without ever resolving what was being played. Leaving us with what sounds like acceptance, rather than a resolution. Stunning work.
Those were 5 of my Albums of the year, in no particular order and also still entirely subject to change really. There was a lot that I love in 2021 and one of the reasons I love AOTY lists is I get to have a nosey at what other people have chosen and listen to the ones I didn’t know about. So to end off, here’s a list month by month of a handful of my favourites throughout the year, excluding the already picked. Enjoy!
Pom Poko - Cheater
Kiwi Jr - Cooler Returns
Goat Girl - On all fours
Eve Adams - Metal Bird
Madlib - Sound Ancestors
The weather station - Ignorance
Black Country New Road - For the first time
Lael Neale - Acquainted with night
Peace Chord - Peace Chord
Slowthai - Tyron
Valerie June - The moon and stars: Prescriptions for dreamers
Genesis Owusu - Smiling with no teeth
Benny the butcher / harry fraud - The plugs I met 2
Chad van Gaalen - Worlds most stressed out gardener
Dry Cleaning - New long leg
Sharon Van Etten - epic ten
Spirit of the beehive - Entertainment, death
Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders & The LSO - Promises
Squid - Bright green field
Spang Sisters - Spang Sisters
Black Midi - Cavalcade
Olivia Rodrigo - SOUR
St Vincent - Daddy’s Home
Japanese Breakfast - Jubilee
Wolf Alice - Blue Weekend
Faye Webster - I know I’m funny
Tyler, the creator - CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST
Horsey - Debonair
Lump - Animal
Kany West - Donda
Turnstile - Glow on
Lingua Ignota - Sinner get ready
Little Simz - sometimes I might be introvert
Injury Reserve - By the time I get to phoenix
Amyl and the sniffers - Comfort to me
Hand habits - fun house
JPEGMAFIA - LP
Courtney Barnett - Things take time, take time
Radiohead - Kid A mnesia
Silk Sonic - An evening with silk sonic
Idles - Crawler
None having a month off
Music loving, opinion giving Barrovian