Yes, here we are again. It’s that time of the year where we all huddle together and put together our favourite albums of 2021. This year we have a wide ranging list that drifts through a variety of genres, such as post-punk triumphants IDLES‘ ‘Crawler‘, through to the groove laden sounds of Silk Sonic. It was an exciting year for music during a tumultuous time in our history. Of course not everything makes the list (we’d be here forever writing about all our favourite music of 2021). However, we want to extend a massive thank you to all the artists that released music in 2021, you saved many souls.
Wolf Alice – Blue Weekend
To my mind, Wolf Alice have always been a consistent band and one that is carving a path of their own. With their latest album ‘Blue Weekend’ though, they elevated themselves as not only a band to be watched but a band to be revered.
While their singles may not have been as immediate as previous efforts, the true joy of ‘Blue Weekend’ was the album as a whole piece of work. From the dramatic opening of ‘The Beach’, ‘Blue Weekend’ flows so beautifully as an album it’s as though the band have thought about each note and song and it’s impact on the whole work.
‘Delicious Things’ has one of those transcendent choruses that add to the cinematic feel of ‘Blue Weekend’, a feel that is enhanced by tracks such as ‘Lipstick On The Glass’ which is a track that envelops you.
In ‘Blue Weekend’, Wolf Alice have almost created a soundtrack for a movie that doesn’t exist. It’s the kind of album that shows it’s true beauty when you throw on a pair of headphones and submit yourself to it. Lockdown may have been hell but if it gave bands enough time to create a piece of art like ‘Blue Weekend’ then maybe that’s the silver lining that we all need.
IDLES – Crawler
IDLES are going from strength to strength and rather than rest on their laurels and tour ‘Ultra Mono’ for years, they released another album in the shape of ‘Crawler’.
A lot darker in tone than previous albums, it was also debatably their most divisive. But that’s just what IDLES try to do, make you think and challenge you and so in that respect, ‘Crawler’ is yet another hit. Songs like ‘The Wheel’ and ‘The New Sensation’ give you classic IDLES with that machine like drumming, guitars that have a mind of their own and those vocals that you can recognise immediately.
With ‘Crawler’ though, IDLES have pushed themselves into new terrain such as the soul of ‘The Beachland Ballroom’, goth wave of ‘When The Lights Come On’ and trip hop of ‘Car Crash’.
Whether it’s the styles you’re used to or the sound of a band pushing themselves in new directions, everything sounds so distinctly IDLES. I could talk about this album all day and it still sparks conversations in the online community with each track seemingly declared as someone’s favourite which to me is a rarity in an album. IDLES at the moment (to me at least) are an unstoppable force and ‘Crawler’ just cemented their status as a band of great importance.
Silk Sonic – An Evening With Silk Sonic
Let’s face it, Bruno Mars and Anderson. Paak are disgustingly talented and so when they join forces it’s going to be a big project that turns heads. Silk Sonic is the result of this team up and it is a love letter and tribute to Motown, funk and soul and it is carried out to perfection. Everything from the production, the dusty sound on the strings, the visuals in their videos and live performances and the style are swimming in the 70’s.
‘Leave The Door Open’ and ‘Smoking Out The Window’ could be singles from The Stylistics. ‘Skate’ heralds back to Studio 54 era disco and ‘Fly As Me’ is dropping in so much swag you can’t help but feel cool listening to it.
You can hear Bruno and Anderson’s individual touches through ‘An Evening With Silk Sonic’ and it all seems to be performed with their firms firmly in their cheeks. ‘An Evening With Silk Sonic’ is an album performed by people that understand the genre inside out and as soon as it draws to a close, it beckons you in for repeat listens.
Genesis Owusu – Smiling With No Teeth
Genesis Owusu is one of those artists in a field of their own. This isn’t any more evident than on ‘Smiling With No Teeth’.
Taking in electro, hip hop and rock among others, Genesis Owusu doesn’t tie himself to any one style yet somehow creates his own. Starting with ‘On The Move!’ which glitches along in a haze of electrics, it seemingly challenges you and let’s you know that this is no ordinary album.
‘Drown’ comes off like an 80’s electro pop track and ‘Waiting On Ya’ is like a soulful slow jam made modern with Genesis’s vocal styling.
‘Don’t Need You’ is a highlight as it has the bounce of a Pharell track with a chorus that you can’t help join in with as each word punches in. ‘Smiling With No Teeth’ will keep you guessing as to what’s next and never quite sticks in one place and for this reason, it deserves repeat listens and full volume.
Holding Absence – The Greatest Mistake Of My Life
While emo may be dead and buried to some and even the word emo carries a stigma, Welsh four piece Holding Absence are on a mission to bring it back.
Rather than sounding like an homage to bands of old, this feels like a natural style for them and one that sounds like they feel every note. Opener ‘Celebration Song’ explodes in with all members attacking their instruments, violins swirling and vocalist Lucas Woodland showing you just what he’s capable of.
Lead single ‘Afterlife’ pounds the speakers as though drummer Ashley Green is angry at his kit. With a chorus that will remain in your head, it’s evident that Holding Absence are capable of writing enormous songs.
While emo is a dirty word to some, it’s just a band that isn’t afraid to wear their emotions on their sleeve and for Holding Absence not only is it a badge of honour for them, it adds so much more weight to each song.
Parcels – Day/Night
Not content with sitting on an incredibly strong back catalogue, Australian five piece Parcels decided to drop a double album this year entitled ‘Day/Night’.
From start to finish, you’re treated to hyper stylised and tightly wound funk disco that is both beautifully conceived and performed. Tracks like ‘Free’ just float beautifully out into the air with the now traditional harmonised vocals from the group.
With no member taking the lead over the entire album, each song has the potential to take on a different feel just based on the vocalist.
‘Day/Night’ teeters between songs like ‘Somethinggreater’ and Famous that are designed for making even the most stubborn person feel like dancing and gorgeous ballads such as ‘Outside’ and ‘NowIcaresomemore’.
Song of the year for me though is ‘Comingback’ which is a whirlwind of funk guitar, piano and falsetto vocals that you will try and sing along with in every pass.
Parcels seem to be exploring genres more with ‘Day/Night’ by including some beautiful orchestration throughout making the album feel powerful and elegant. Parcels have always had a knack for writing songs that instantly grab you but with ‘Day/Night’ they’ve made a piece of work to get lost in.
FUR – When You Walk Away
The Brighton based band have come out the gate with this establishing debut album. Blending sounds of the sixties with more modern indie elements, with a touch of nonchalant positivity throughout. It’s an upbeat experience that is more than deserving to be on a variety of albums of the year lists. Opening track ‘When You Walk Away, Pt.1’ sets the tone as an effortlessly cool guitar belts through, backed by a rising percussion and the bands instantly recognisable vocals.
It’s fun music that is designed to be danced too, which in a world we inhabit at the moment, is nothing short of joyous. The world is a serious place and artists such as FUR are helping us find moments of ease.
This isn’t to say that the band lacks depth, as their songwriting shines incredibly bright on this debut. Songs such ‘To Be Next To Her’ and ‘She’s The Warmest Colour In My Mind’ would make McCartney and Lennon burst with jealousy.
Griff – One Foot In Front Of The Other
Whilst labelled a “mixtape”, Griff’s album ‘One Foot In Front Of The Other’ helps blow away the cobwebs with euphoric cuts and irresistibly catchy hooks.
Filled with nods to her Chinese ancestry and familial lineage, Griff’s debut album acts as an homage to growing up. Tackling harder subjects such as her father’s deterioration in ‘Earl Grey Tea’ – Griff encourages appreciating the little things in life and living in the here and now.
Contrastingly exuding positivity in the shimmering pop-cut ‘Black Hole’ and tongue-in-cheek cheese of ‘Walk’, Griff demonstrates her ability to talk on all walks of life. ‘One Foot In Front Of The Other’’s collection of tracks are a welcome addition to Griff’s back-catalogue of dazzling numbers.
Arlo Parks – Collapsed In Sunbeams
Flirting with lamentations on mundanity and everyday life, Arlo Parks takes a deep dive into the subconscious through her explorations of mental health and interpersonal relationships. Navigating the world one poetic line at a time, ‘Collapsed In Sunbeams’ demonstrates her uncanny ability to translate societal observations into stunning pieces of music.
Featuring themes of colour veined throughout, the title track states, “The turquoise in my ring matches the deep blue cramp of everything”, while ‘Hurt’ hints at longing, “Started dreaming of a house with red carnations by the windows”, and ‘Caroline’ paints descriptions of “Strawberry cheeks flushed with defeated rage”. Tackling themes of depression and anxiety, hope is injected for the duration of the twelve tracks as Parks delivers an honest take on 21st century living.
Oozing with wonderment and emotion-filled lyricism, Parks’ debut offering is truly worthy of the Mercury Prize it received.
Bull – Discover Effortless Living
Bull are fast becoming one of London’s favourite bands, which is no surprise after a wave of memorable live shows and the release of their stunning debut album ‘Discover Effortless Living’.
The bands subtle and soft take on the indie/yacht rock genre is nothing short of delightful. To simply sum up ‘Discover Effortless Living’ in a word would be nice. It’s nice music that is as wholesome as it is alluring.
Bull blend these soft sounds with inventive songwriting that sees stunning vocal harmonies back up their choruses, creating a foot tapping adventure that forces a smile out of the listener. It’s an incredibly relaxing experience. It’s almost impossible to not feel a warmth rush over you when listening to their music.
Bull are just beginning their foray into the wide music world and if they keep releasing music of this calibre, they’ll dominate 2022 and beyond.
Langkamer – West Country
Langkamer are fast becoming the sweethearts of the South-West scene. They’re a sonically diverse and interesting act that are wonderfully melancholy, although always having their tongue firmly in cheek.
Their debut album ‘West Country’ has this vibe felt throughout and it is hard to not be pulled in by their charm. Opening track ‘The Return Of Little Big Man’ has one of the most simple yet alluring guitar lines, that develops as the track plays out. This is backed by the terminally chill vocals of lead singer/drummer Joshua Jarman.
The soft atmosphere that the band create is felt throughout ‘West Country’ but comes in different packages so to speak. The aforementioned opener sits in the indie spectrum whilst tracks such as ‘Humdinger’ and ‘Polly You Should See Me Now’ bring forward a country/americana sound. The latter track infuses this soft sound beautifully.
The Bristol based band are on an ever growing path, one I watch with great interest. ‘West Country’ just the beginning for this superb sounding band.
Ty Segall – Harmonizer
Ty Segall continues to boast his creative inventiveness and his ability to mold and blend the rock genre to his will. As each albumpasses Ty shows that there are still plenty of exciting ways to create a rock album. The genre is ever evolving and Ty is certianly showing everyone just how much you can bend classic rock sound.
‘Harmonizer’ sees Ty blend the classic rock/garage rock sound of ‘Manipulator’ with his new found love for synths, first heard during ‘First Taste’. It’s an exciting album that is filled to the brim with tasty guitar licks, inventive song structures, and a fresh, if not innovative take on the genre.
Ty has slowed down in how many albums a year he releases, and frankly this has helped him create more interesting music. ‘Harmonizer’ is what Ty can make when he sits back and gives himself time to indulge in his creativity.
The Darkness – Motorheart
British classic rock historians The Darkness returned this year with their new album ‘Motorheart’. For those that know The Darkness will know just what to expect from the ever fun and exciting band. Spandex, riffs, solos, falsettos and tongue in cheek lyrics are all on the menu on the four piece’s seventh studio album.
Opening track ‘Welcome Tae Glasgae’ is potentially the only song from a non Scottish band declaring their undying love for the city. Set to hammering drums and ringing guitar, Justin’s now traditional falsetto comes out of the gate early to ring in a thunderous riff.
From there, The Darkness rarely let up. The title track about a sex robot, “you need a Philips screwdriver to get her undressed” being a particular favourite lyric, goes from stomping rock to a rolling freight train to a Queen soundalike chorus in the space of one track.
You already know what you’re getting when you hit play on a The Darkness album and ‘Motorheart’ never strays too far from that. It’s classic hard rock sung by a frontman whose tongue is so firmly in his cheek, it practically pokes all the way through. The world is a dark place at times, let your spirits be lifted by some good ol rock n roll.
Other notable releases also came from: TV Priest, Little Simz, Sir Was, Slowthai, Brockhampton, Doja Cat, Celeste, Kid Kapichi, Joy Crookes, Tigercub, Hovvdy, The Holiday Ghosts.