As we began to venture back out in the world over 2021 we saw a different landscape and the albums that came out this year reflected that new world. There are debuts of stunning brilliance, bands that suffered the loss of members and came back stronger than ever, and even masters of their craft who put out some of their best work. I started off with 25 albums that had grabbed my attention and worked it down to 11, leaving off some incredible LPs. In the end, these are what I found most moving and told our story of this year. So, in no particular order……
Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders & The London Symphony Orchestra - Promises
At 80, Pharoah Sanders has, with the help of the LSO and Sam Shepherd (aka Floating Points), created a masterwork celebrating his free jazz roots while looking simultaneously at the past and the future. Ethereal and capricious, it finds its place in that space outside time. Shepherd is a certified master of his craft and really coaxes the best of Sanders, juxtaposing him against the lush backdrop of the LSO while allowing him the space to work his magic.
The Weather Station - Ignorance
The fifth full-length studio release for the Tamara Lindeman project The Weather Station was co-produced with Marcus Paquin, who also mixed the record, and is the realization of the true potential of their art. Lindeman’s lyrics are some of her strongest, accentuated by music that takes the well-worn singer-songwriter acoustic trope employed on her earlier albums and fills it out with strings, horn, piano, and electric guitar. Her voice is also in fine form, moving easily between a whisper and a scream with an unparalleled deftness.
Vijay Iyer, Linda May Han Oh & Tyshawn Sorey - Uneasy
Recorded in 2019, Uneasy wasn't released until this past April. Pianist Vijay Iyer, joined by bassist Linda May Han Oh, and drummer Tyshawn Sorey, have created a work that reflects the best of socially conscious jazz from the 50s and 60s grafted onto the (same) issues we face today. It is avant-garde, open-ended, and played with a single mind as the music swells and releases like a tide caressing the shore.
Joe Strummer - Assembly
There is something weirdly comforting hearing this voice, road-worn, but not weary, almost calling from the grave. I debated putting this one on because it is a compilation of Joe’s solo work, but Joe is the voice of my rebel, so how could I not. It covers everything from his soundtrack work and Earthquake Weather to his later bands Mescaleros and Latino Rockabilly War. The song choices are all top-notch and the album hangs together as a cohesive whole, making it a must-have for even casual Clash fans.
Turnstile - GLOW ON
What do you get when you take hardcore punk, pop proclivities, and a little Go-Go? Turnstile and their fantastic album Glow On. It is a celebration of influences found along the DC-Baltimore corridor that is bursting with hard riffs and pop sensibilities. It works on so many levels, rising where many genre-bending punk bands failed in its refusal to truly crossover, which in turn may make this the best Hardcore album in 20 years.
Low - Hey What
Now without a bassist, Singer-guitarist Alan Sparhawk and singer-drummer Mimi Parker, aka Duluth MN’s husband-wife duo Low, have taken minimalism to a new level making Low’s 13th album one of their best. Sometimes the noise tells the story and that is the case here, disjointed, distorted, and disconnected, pushing further and harder than ever before.
Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes - Sticky
Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes are pure punk, raw, unrefined, and restless. They take the essence of punk and hardcore, throw in some garage rock, some electronic noise, and a little pop to marvelous effect. This is music that will get your blood pumping and have you screaming into the void.
Jimmy Montague – Casual Use
Jimmy Montague has created a neo-dark pop masterpiece and I am all about it. Moving deftly from introspective singer-songwriter vibes to full-on 70s horn explosions. The brilliance with this one is you can almost place the influences, but they are so ingrained in Montague’s pallet they are indecipherable. I hear the Doobies, Steely Dan, and Chicago all floating around, but also Elliot Smith and Harry Nillson. Top-notch production, insightful lyrics, and tight arrangements propel this soul-soaked affair forward and Montague poises himself to be hugely influential beyond his hometown of NY.
Armand Hammer & The Alchemist – Haram
The finest purveyors of noise-rap, ELUCID and Billy Woods, the NYC duo known as Armand Hammer joined with producer the Alchemist to create a dark journey through the underbelly of America. It is an amalgamation of synth snatches, floating voices, and jazz piano runs accentuating the slow grind of the beat. ELUCID and Billy Woods are both masters on the mic and paint a grim picture of the US that in the end leaves you with hope that voices like theirs will be heard and a change will come.
Lady Blackbird - Black Acid Soul
Lady Blackbird (aka Marley Munroe) is a melting pot of the best of female singers through the last 70 years. She conjures visions of Nina Simone and Billie Holiday in their darkest glory, but also the self-empowering soul of Chaka Khan and Glaydis Knight. Along with producer Chris Seefried she has crafted a set of inspired covers with a few originals sprinkled in that highlight her vocal prowess. A brilliant debut that shows the sky's the limit.
SPIRIT OF THE BEEHIVE - ENTERTAINMENT, DEATH
Over the pandemic Spirit of the Beehive went from being a quintet to a trio and in the process recorded one of their most cohesive albums to date. The addition of synth washes and lo-fi diy studio tricks bring a new layer to their psychedelic dream pop. The album becomes a vision of fear, of magic in the fire, where you can dance in a sacred space. A mixture of punk and psych-rock, like if Tame Impala and Roky Erickson had a bastard love child, ENTERTAINMENT, DEATH demands repeated listenings.
Mdou Moctar - Afrique Victime
Citizen – Life In Your Glass World
Mister Goblin – Four People In An Elevator and One of Them Is The Devil
Jerry Cantrell - Brighten (Official Video)Jerry Cantrell - Brighten
Geese - Projector Rain Dance
Snail Mail - Valentine
L'Rain - Fatigue
Xenia Rubinos - Una Rosa