It is without question that 2021 has been a great music. With the severity of 2020’s pandemic situation keeping us all locked up, it seems that many musical minds took full use of the opportunity to create without pesky things like a daytime retail job getting in the way. The result of this, combined with some holdbacks from the last year and the return of live music this summer gave us plenty to be happy about in 2021, making this possibly one of the best years for music in a very, very long time. So much so, I can’t make this into an Albums of the Year article because every time I look at what came out this year, I cannot find it within myself to trim or order anything. Instead, consider this a highlighting of standout moments and sounds that enriched my year.
Warning: this is a bit of a waffle-fest and somewhat falls apart towards the end. If you just want a playlist of absolute bangers that have defined the year for me, skip to the bottom. It’s probably the safer route for everyone to be entirely honest.
January was mostly still obsessing over Taylor Swift, but some new-to-me music made it through the haze of folklore and evermore, most notably the sole release from a then-disbanded group by the name of Dazey and the Scouts. Their EP Maggot is quite simply fantastic. Whether taking on gender dysphoria and the societal battles the trans community face on the daily, the problematic treatment of sexual abuse in the porn industry, or just an inability to reach orgasm while depressed, no other band I’ve heard this year brings such a sense of joyous energy to create as this EP embodies. If you like your music guitar-based and lively, this is a must listen.
My birthday in early February gave me another point upon which to briefly pivot my attention. A good friend of mine gave me Arlo Parks’ debut, Collapsed in Sunbeams on clear vinyl. The record as an item was greatly appreciated, and the music within would soon exceed my admiration for its physical format. You don’t need me to tell you about it – three BRIT nominations and a Mercury Prize win say more than enough. Unfortunately, I have not given this album the respect it deserves, as it is more relaxed than what I tend to search for, but this is something I hope to be rectifying in the near future.
March brought about a triumphant moment for new and independent music, with Black Honey’s second album Written & Directed (reviewed HERE) making it to number 7 on the official album charts. I won’t be at all unbiased – they’ve been my favourite band since 2016 and I am so happy that they achieved such a massive and visible milestone.
April saw me dive into the world of Girl In Red, just in time to get excited about her debut album if I could make it go quiet, which released at the end of the month. Her later gig at Pryzm was one of my highlights of the whole year, not just in music terms. The vibe was supportive and absolutely ready to party – what more does one need?
May became the month of EPs, with Pixey’s Free To Live In Colour bringing out the floaty summer indie bops early. She has to be one to watch heading into the new year, with a slot supporting Alfie Templeman sure to bring her to well-deserved promenance. Additionally, Coach Party dropped ‘Everybody Hates Me’ as lead single from After Party, and Maude Latour started hyping us up for her absolutely massive EP Strangers Forever.
The summer was a somewhat less involved time. Having a job will do that, and I am resultingly amazed at how my parents stay so up to date. Probably because I’m always playing weird new stuff, but who knows? One thing that did hit me, beyond the global phenomenon that was SOUR, was Pom Pom Squad’s Death of a Cheerleader. Think Heathers and The Virgin Suicides as an album. Get ready to stave of your lovesickness by throwing a brick through your academic rival’s window and making poorly thought-out social media posts, ya dig?
Oh, and Wolf Alice released Blue Weekend. What an album. Reviewed HERE, it is safe to say I have only become more of a fan of the album in the time since it came out.
The autumn brought me more towards looking at some of the music I’ve always meant to listen to, but never got around to. Some turned out to not meet my expectations and will not be named for fear of being roasted. Some got put on repeat for a solid month. Most notable amongst the later camp is Hole’s Live Through This. Say what you want about Courtney love, this has to be one of Grunge’s definitive albums, if not one for all rock following the tumultuous and supercharged early 90s. A must listen, for both the punchy composition and perhaps surprisingly impactful lyricism.
I briefly managed to slip back into a 2021 frame of mind with Maisie Peters’ debut You Signed Up For This. With song-writing tinged with Taylor Swift, catchy and emotive lyrics, and some fabulous compositions, I was never not going to like this album. I also hear she’s vaguely local, so Maisie if you’re reading this and are amenable to an interview, please reach out to us!
Finally, my winter has been driven by a continuation of this path, in the direction of Patti Smith. Horses has been an album I have enjoyed for a few years, but for some unknown reason I never progressed beyond it. That came to a change a couple of months ago, when after reading one of her memoirs, Just Kids, I dove into Radio Ethiopia. Quite simply, I really enjoyed it, as well as her third album Easter. They stay largely in line with her proto-punk sound and attitude from Horses, and while I know that doesn’t persist into album 4, Wave, I look forward into making my way through the discography of one of the irrefutable greats of the 20th century.
Some honourable mentions must be added. Lucy Dacus’s Home Video is in strong contention for my AOTY and came on the recommendation of one of the best friends I’ve made in years. Another friend, Cameron Owden, aka KC Blackwater, released a solo EP Happy Smiling Faces, and it goes exceptionally hard. Finally, Orla Gartland’s Woman on the Internet was recently introduced to me by the same person who gave me the Arlo Parks record, and it definitely bears investigation beyond my cursory first listens.
Now, the moment you fought through this for – the playlist. I hope you enjoy my musical journey this year as much as I did, and head into the new year energised and excited about what is still to come for your ear drums.