I’ve done the calculations, I’ve handwritten lists, I’ve got ink on my hands, and I’ve done the proper contemplating over coffees and beers. It felt as if there weren’t as many “big names” dropping LPs in 2021. Or maybe I just don’t really care about “big names” anymore. I like what I like, and it seems that a good portion of what I liked this year was coming from independent record labels and artists that make their music outside of day jobs and other gigs. They’re the artists that despite other responsibilities in their lives they find the time to stoke their artisitic fires in the late hours or on weekends.
Not because they need to, but because they want to. Because they have to in order to have that creative release to put those melodies and concepts into the atmosphere. It truly is a passion for them, and I can completely dig that. Not only that, but I can relate.
So here’s to the independent artists and labels in 2021. You soundtracked my walks, my car rides, and many hours of contemplation. Thanks for doing what you do.
Okay, so here we go. Numbers 30-21.
30. Papir : Jams
Papir are one of the premier three-piece rock bands. For over a decade the Danish trio have put out forward-thinking instrumental albums that push the bounderies of psych, post-rock, atmospheric, and even progressive music. Despite the heady labels the music always feels airy and free-flowing and pulled right out of thin air. On Jams the band decided to drop an album of just that, jams. 6 tracks of free-flowing jams that range from dreamy to fuzzed-out guitar explosions. This is a record that takes us to the core and DNA of what a Papir record comes from, the raw materials of a band locking in and seeing where the muse takes them.
29. Bagaski : Final
One of the big surprises for me this year came from record label See Blue Audio and an artist that goes by Bagaski. The album Final feels like walking into a hazy dream; eyes not quite yet focused on the gauzy light reflecting off the sea, a warmth touching your skin, and bee swarm buzzing in your ears that clears and leaves ethereal electronic music that is nostalgic and kind of melancholy. There’s a hint of darkness throughout but never dour. Just a feeling that things aren’t what they seem, and you are okay with that for the time being.
28. Carlton Melton : Night Pillars
The “Dome Rock” fellas from the wilds of Northern California dropped this surprise album at the beginning of December called Night Pillars. It’s Carlton Melton in a more contemplative mood, laying down some drones and ethereal vibes. I do love Carlton Melton in droning, contemplative moods. I feel that’s their superpower, even more so than the chugging riffs and tribal caveman rhythms they’re equally good at. A nice slice of Melton to bid 2021 goodbye to.
27. Justin Sweatt : When the Light Goes
Justin Sweatt dropped his second full-length under his own name this year. Another vast, atmospheric tone poem called When The Light Goes. There’s elements of post-rock, ambient, and even spaced-out new age if you like that kind of trip. Sweatt always adds plenty of atmosphere into his work, whether it’s under his own name or his darker work as Xander Harris. Regardless the nom de plume he’s going by, Sweatt makes astonishing music that locks into emotional and existential heft in a way that few can.
26. Zombi : Liquid Crystal
Prog/synth super duo Zombi returned this year as well with the EP Liquid Crystal. Moore and Paterra never disappoint, whether coming together in Zombi like some Voltron-esque musical beast or on their own in solo adventures. But as Zombi this duo make stunning records. Liquid Crystal sees the former Pittsburgh-based band in ethereal mode. From Carpenter-esque grooves to almost The Shining-vibing of Wendy Carlos to dark ambient, Liquid Crystal is a great addition to last year’s excellent 2020. Keep an eye out in 2022, as both Moore and Paterra are getting the reissue treatment, and I’m sure new tunes as well. Until then, vibe on Liquid Crystal.
25. St. Vincent : Daddy’s Home
Annie Clark likes to reinvent herself with each album. Shed her skin and grow new much like her obvious inspiration David Bowie. Daddy’s Home is her “Thin White Duke” record; all horns-a-blazin’ and fun to funky grimy New York vibe. This album shows St. Vincent getting a serious 70s street vibe going and I’m in for it 100%. Clark is one of the most interesting and intriguing artists working today, and Daddy’s Home is proof of that.
24. Andy Fosberry : (connection lost)
Composer and electronic artist Andy Fosberry has made a name for himself as one of the premier imagined soundtrack composers. His work with Spun Out Of Control has been some of my favorite albums over the last couple years. Besides real score work, Fosberry has put out some great albums under his own name. Engaging and inspired work like this year’s excellent (connection lost). Brooding and complex melodies coalesce with syncopated rhythms and ethereal soundscapes, Fosberry made an album of contemplative spaces and ambient tones that open a vast chasm of sound and thought.
23. Jason Priest : Jason Priest Is Missing
On his full-length debut as alter-ego Jason Priest, Antoni Maiovvi gives us 8 slash and burn post-punk tracks that feel classic in tone but still very much their own thing. Jason Priest Is Missing came out this summer on Midnight Mannequin Records to comparisons to Depeche Mode, The Cure, New Order, and Nine Inch Nails. Jason Priest was an artist that came up with all of those greats but burnt out before he had a chance to take root, of course in some other alternate timeline. Fortunately Priest got his act together, found sobriety, and is now ready to take his place at the big show. First step, put out an absolutely killer album. With Jason Priest Is Missing he’s done that. Now? Win over the world, one listener at a time.
22. Camp Of Wolves : Green Timbers
Another amazing find this year was composer David Salisbury. He releases music as Camp of Wolves, and in 2021 he put out two albums with two different record labels. First up is his Waxing Crescent Records debut Green Timbers. A magnificently melancholy and brooding electronic album that feels part Wendy Carlos, part Micah Levi, and part Johann Johannsson, with a touch of Badalamenti for good measure. This is a slice of the artist’s own life, as it’s inspired by an area where Salisbury’s childhood was spent. I imagine Green Timbers to look and feel like a cross between Twin Peaks, River’s Edge, with a touch of the grey, muddy mining town from The Deer Hunter. Salisbury creates a very visceral and stunning sound world here. One I won’t soon forget.
21. The Heartwood Institute & Hawksmoor : Concrete Island
Thematically inspired by JG Ballard’s book of the same name, Concrete Island is a cold, steely landscape of a record. The Heartwood Institute and Hawksmoor channel Tubeway Army, Joy Division, and Kraftwerk into a collaborative sonic stew that paints a gray landscape which feels dystopian and dangerous in a post-cold war kind of way. Both artists know their way around a synth and create the kind of musical excursion that would have risen from the ashes of post-free love 60s and landed firmly in the indifferent 70s. The kind of environment that gave us the experimental German music scene of the early 70s.
Coming up next, 20-11.