Well, we’ve come to another year’s end. Old man 2021 is getting his things in order; making out his Will, signing over his POA to next of Kin, and making things right with all of those he’s wronged. Who has 2021 wronged, you say? Well, we got off to a smashing start on January 6th and then the shit landslide just kept going from there. I know for me personally 2020 felt like a warm blanket of quiet, isolated comfort compared the 2021. But I also was working throughout it all, didn’t lose anyone to Covid, and was in contact with those most important to me the entire time. I was lucky.
Anyways, we know the shitstorms that occurred in 2021 so let’s just leave it at that. Besides another strange year, there were some good things; some amazing movies, concerts returned, and of course albums were a-plenty. Sure, physical media took a hit. But that didn’t stop artists from putting music out there in the void for us to grab and devour and receive artistic and spiritual replenishment from.
That’s reason to celebrate.
So this year I’m doing it a little different. This first part of my year-end list are albums that I loved but aren’t in some numerical order of hierarchy. These are albums I played a lot and enjoyed thoroughly throughout the year. There will be a top 30 albums of the year coming, but these are records I may not have spent a ton of time with but loved nonetheless. So if it’s mentioned here, it’s worth the hard drive space in your brain in my book.
Let’s get this started, shall we?
The Heartwood Institute : Witchcraft Murders
Jonathan Sharp’s haunted sound world as The Heartwood Institute is a deep and eerie one. Witchcraft Murders sees him delving into real life unexplained murders in the UK mid-century know as the Lower Quinton and Hagley Wood Murders. Musically Sharp takes us on a journey of 80s-centric electro dread. Imagine of Depeche Mode scored a ghost story, or if the sound track for The X-Files had been taken over by Pye Corner Audio. That’s the vibe here and it’s a stunning nightmare fever dream to get lost in.
Alone In The Woods : Help Is Not Coming
Jon Dobyns and Lonn Bologna are studio wizards. They make meticulous and beautiful music that is inspired by horror. Help Is Not Coming is this fantastical sound world that pulls inspiration from films like Cannibal Holocaust, Cannibal Ferox, and to a lesser extent Green Inferno. Outsiders mucking up in an environment they should have never messed around in. Dobyns and Bologna create texture and environment with both the organic and synthetic, giving us a world we can truly feel. Another stunner from these two composers/producers.
Isvisible Isinvisible : Moon-White Water
Another modular mind melt with Simon Pott, aka Isvisible Isinvisible. This time out Moon-White Water screeches and screams like a robot on the rack. Sleek rhythms and ethereal melodies emerge from Pott’s circuital imagination, creating a musically rich and emotionally dense sound world that builds on the promises of previous releases. If modular synth is your thing, then Simon Pott is your man. One of the best.
Polypores : Chaos Blooms
Speaking of modular wizards, Stephen J Buckley aka Polypores, knows his way around the circuits, knobs, and patch cables. He approaches the work like a scientist, maybe mad or maybe not, and puts his imagination in parallel with nature and the circuital hum does the rest. His work on the Stefan Bachmeier re-releases put me in his sonic good graces, and this early 2021 release Chaos Blooms made me a full on Polypores fanboy. Allowing things to happen the way improvisation and the universe wants led to this gorgeous sound collage of a record. Chaos yes, but still an entrancing and inviting listen nonetheless.
Shortwave Broadcaster : Sometimes In The Distance
Keith Canisius’ guitar/Eurorack project Shortwave Broadcaster makes use of subtle touches and open spaces, making for far-flung sound world. Sometimes In The Distance is four long pieces that feel grand is scope, like Vangelis channeling Johann Johansson, or the other way around. Crystalline palaces of heavily effected guitar build a kind of Fortress of Solitude where we can escape the world for a bit. Canisius also works with musician Rasmus Rasmussen in Astral TV, which is more of a Krautrock/Komische project. Here, Canisius plays in swaths of sound and light giving it all an ethereal glow.
BurningTapes : Devil X Nine
BurningTapes returned this year with the grimy, fuzz-drenched Devil X Nine, the pedal to the metal desert death trip into 70s exploitation films, heavy bass, and Beastie Boys-flavored fuzz rock. Imagine QOTSA, Beastie Boys, and Chemical Brothers all being pushed through a Tube Screamer and lots of mushrooms all the while soundtracking some Roger Corman-produced biker flick from 1971. That’s Darren Page’s vibe here and I’m in for it 100%.
Kuma : Rainbow Kaleidoscope For Constants
Kuma’s Rainbow Kaleidoscope For Constants evokes dreams and being lost in thought. Falling through the universe slowly as your life plays before you like some late night film. A soundtrack to an “ambient road movie”, it works to pull you into an aural landscape that isn’t euphoric, but engaging like weird dream. It’s not a nightmare, but not a daydream either. It’s like digging for meaning in subtleties and nuance.
It’s not easy, but the best kind of art isn’t.
Cloud Nothings : The Shadows I Remember
Cloud Nothings returned to their jagged pop/post-punk on 2021’s The Shadows I Remember. Not abandoning their more poppier tendencies from 2017’s Life Without Sound but combining that with the more noise rock of earlier albums, as well as self-released albums, the four-piece once again worked with Steve Albini to make an album of emotional depth and post-punk angst that seems to be the band’s calling card and pocket of sonic comfort.
Ffion : Radials
Another absolute stunner from Thomas and Ashleigh Ragsdale’s Ffion project. Freeform ARP workouts that find the sonics a little murkier and more world-weary than previous releases. This is a reflection of the world in which this art was created; mysterious, dark, and weary. Still, there’s much to fall for here, as Ffion is a project that despite creating in the void, finds light and a hefty amount of love to pull from.
The Black Keys : Delta Kream
I fell for The Black Keys early on, but by the time Attack and Release came along I’d lost interest in Auerbach and Carney’s white boy college blues revival. Everything that came after sounded derivative, tired, and lazy. Then of course came their Steve Miller induction into the R&R Hall of Fame and I was done.
But I’m older now and can appreciate a good album regardless of my opinions of who made it, and Delta Kream is a fucking great album. The Ohio blues dudes don’t pretend to be original and instead try to just make a great album that pays tribute to some innovators that never got their due. Dan Auerbach has proven to be a hell of a producer(and yeah not a bad blues guitarist either), while Patrick Carney lays some serious rhythmic groundwork that lets this great band they’ve put together do what they do best. Whatever you think of The Black Keys, Delta Kream is just an all-time banger.
Part two up next. Until then, check these bands out. Buy their albums if you dig ’em. That’s how we support our art. Listen…love…buy. Repeat.