Posted in Listed

10 Favourite Songs of 2021

10. The Hold Steady – Unpleasant Breakfast:  The mid tempo track appears midway through the latest release from The Hold Steady, on an album that welcomes Franz Nicolay back to the fold. It’s a minimal track that gets amped up with “Woooo” in the chorus before adding a piano swing towards the end.

9. Chris Miles, Lil Xan – MISS ME:  When Lil Xan teamed up with Chris Miles, they managed to cross numerous musical boundaries including rap, trap, rock, emo, pop, etc. Lil Xan turns in a vulnerable second verse and it’s hard to deny the simple hook of Miles yelling “like yeah”.  An unexpected end of year favourite.

8. Japanese Breakfast – Paprika:  The lead track from Michelle Zauner’s critically acclaimed third album was all sweetness and light. It is hard to top the joy when Zauner hits the high notes in the chorus and her exclamation that “it’s a rush” just before the horns pour in.

7. Lana Del Rey – Dealer:  With two albums of songs to choose from in 2021, this Miles Kane duet is not the most obvious. Driven by bass and drums, the lazy 60s vibe builds as they sang “I gave you all my money” before Lana belts out the anguished chorus.

6. Wolf Alice – Delicious Things:  The second track on Wolf Alice’s excellent Blue Weekend album, sees the Ellie Roswell wondering whether her move to LA was the right decision.  Over an atmospheric chorus, Roswell ponders a feeling that many of us have felt while living in a new city – “would you believe I’m in Los Angeles?”

5.  Chvrches (Featuring Robert Smith) – How Not To Drown:  Another UK band that saw members move to LA, Chvrches second single added Robert Smith to the proceedings. A pounding piano breaks through the densely layered track. Even with a legend singing with her, it’s Lauren Mayberry that delivers the powerful opening line “I’m writing a book on how to stay conscious when you drown”.

4. Wet Leg – Chaise Longue: When readers on Instagram were asked by BBC6 what  their favourite new bands were, an overwhelming amount of commenters mentioned Wet Leg. The duo delivers hilarious lyrics in a monotone, deadpan style over one of the catchiest musical beds of the year. A few more excellent singles have followed making Wet Leg’s debut scheduled for 2022, one of the most anticipated of the new year.

3. Damon Albarn – Royal Morning Blue: A highlight off of Albarn’s first solo album in seven years, “Royal Morning Blue” rides a simple electronic drum beat but also adds swirls of sounds. The atmospheric track draws much heft from Albarn’s singing and hits an emotional note when he says, “…and nothing like this had ever happened”

2. The Felice Brothers – Jazz On The Autobahn:  The upbeat track from New York’s The Felice Brothers tells the story of a woman speaking of what the apocalypse will be like. A terrific drum beat moves the track along as it reaches the infectious chorus declaring the end of times will sound/not sound like “jazz, jazz, jazz…”.  If the end of the world sounds like this, I’m ready!

1. Middle Kids – Today We’re the Greatest:  Like the year before, 2021 was a rough go much of the time.  Still battling a pandemic, cut off from friends/family, endless fighting online, employment lost, travel plans cancelled. But Middle Kids breaks through the doom to declare that, “someday we’ll be gone, but today we’re the greatest”. It’s a poignant sentiment that we’ll all disappear and be forgotten about but just for today – we can be heroes. A hidden gem that will hopefully be discovered by more people needing a lift.

Posted in Listed

Favourite Distant (Re)Discoveries 2021

5. Ela Minus – they told us it was hard, but they were wrong (Song): Originally I had this all teed up to be in my top 10 songs of the year then discovered it came out in 2020. This has all the good things we appreciate in a dance track – dark, moody, mysterious, atmospheric, incessant beat, buried vocals, etc. The Brooklyn based Colombian, knocked us out with one of our favourite tracks that we heard in 2021.

4. The Tragically Hip – Saskadelphia (EP):  Growing up as a teenager in Canada in the early 90s it was practically a prerequisite to like The Tragically Hip. They are not a band I normally put on the stereo as their music is ubiquitous around these parts but when they released this EP of music recorded around the time of the Road Apples album, I was all in. I didn’t realize how much I wanted to hear them until I did. Another great entry into their legacy and hopefully not the last.

3. Limp Bizkit – Break Stuff (Live at Lollapalooza 2021) (Song) :  I was never a Limp Bizkit fan, not even as a guilty pleasure. This video appeared soon after the heavy handed Woodstock 99 documentary that cast the band as having ruined the hippie esthetic. Looking like your dad (if he was one of the Beastie Boys), singer Fred Durst was in fine form by making fun of the documentary before tearing up the crowd. The music seems better with humour and nostalgia than it did in the late 90s as a lifestyle.

2. Oasis – Knebworth 1996 (2CD + Documentary):  25 years on from the legendary Knebworth weekend; the band released a documentary, concert films of both nights, and an album. Mainly featuring tracks from the first two albums + B-sides, the performance catches the band at their peak. The documentary starts off a bit slow but continues to build with each song with one highlight being John Squire joining the lads for a guitar solo on “Champagne Supernova”. Acting in stark contrast to the Woodstock 99 doc, this was all peace and love with plenty of cigarettes and alcohol.

1. The Beatles – Let It Be/Get Back (2CD edition + Documentary) – One of the most anticipated releases of the year was Peter Jackson’s extraordinary Get Back documentary on The Beatles making of the Let It Be album and sessions leading up to the famous rooftop concert. Remarkable to see classic songs written in just a few weeks with the highlight being Paul McCartney creating “Get Back” on the spot. While the Let It Be album is the lesser of the last few releases by the band, the second disc of alternative takes were helluva lot of fun to listen to and explore. Much more to be heard for those willing to spend the extra cash on the super deluxe edition.

Posted in Listed

Favourite Albums of 2021

Blue Banisters (2LP)

5.  Lana Del Rey – Blue Banisters:  Lana Del Rey put her work foot down in 2021 and released two fine albums. Her second release, Blue Banisters, gets the slight nod for favourite of the year. What Lana does very well is create a vibe and feeling. Mixing new songs with older recordings, this was an album to sink into while drifting away.

Screen Violence (Vinyl)

4.  Chvrches – Screen Violence:  A few members of the Scottish band have relocated to LA but the band has continued through the travels. Lauren Mayberry’s voice adds a human element to their often dense, electronic sound. Robert Smith shows up on “How Not To Drown” and it’s a testament to the band that he adds to the track instead of overshadowing the younger Glaswegians.

Open Door Policy (Vinyl)

3.  The Hold Steady – Open Door Policy:  The Hold Steady’s first album with keyboardist Franz Nicolay was welcomed with open arms. The wordy wordplay of Craig Finn is punctuated with horns and flourishes that add an extra dose of excitement. It was an album to make some of us fall for the band all over again after not listening for a few years.

The Nearer the Fountain, More Pure the Stream Flows

2.  Damon Albarn – The Nearer The Fountain, More Pure The Stream Flows:  The blur and Gorillaz leader returns with his first solo album in seven years. The influence was Iceland but also his home in Devon and the lockdown. Paranoia and danger mixes with beauty and wonder on the minimal album that is not perfect but one that we returned to time and time again.

Blue Weekend [Softpack]

1.  Wolf Alice – Blue Weekend:  Right from first listen it was going to be hard to knock Wolf Alice off our list as the album of the year. The London band mixed many alternative rock styles from the last 30 years to create a memorable ride through their eclectic world. While, “Delicious Things” was the highlight, several other songs shone such as the blast of “Play The Greatest Hits” and the much softer “No Hard Feelings”. It all hangs together terrifically well as the band looks equally to the oil filled water in the gutter as they do the bright stadium lights.

Posted in Album Reviews

Oasis – Knebworth 1996 (2CD + DVD Edition) (2021)

Oasis - Knebworth 1996 [Blu-ray]

Music documentaries was a crowded marketplace in 2021.  The most anticipated being Peter Jackson’s magnificent reworking of The Beatles Let It Be documentary, Get Back.  The Velvet Underground and Sparks both had well received screen time.  Bill Simmons introduced his Music Box series with Woodstock ’99 that detailed the lack of peace and love that thousands of Nu Metal fans inflicted on the festival.

In November, an antidote to all the critics bemoaning the state of youth culture in the Woodstock doc came out as nostalgia hit the mid-90s with the 25 year anniversary of Oasis’ famous Knebworth gigs. In 1996, 250,000 fans gathered in a field to celebrate one of the peak happenings of the Britpop era. The first two discs on this edition captures the setlist in order, mixing in recordings on both nights. It’s an astonishing run through the hits, album tracks, and B-sides taken mostly from the first two Oasis albums.

Opener “Columbia” catches the band in full rock and roll psychedelia before a guitar scrawl announces the arrival of could have been single, “Acquiesce”. Noel Gallagher implores the crowd to jump as the band launches into the previous year’s number two single, “Roll With It”. An impassioned version of Definitely Maybe’s classic album track “Slide Away” sees Liam Gallagher add vulnerability while mixing a punk snarl with a rock n roll stance.

Having been released as singles within the year, “Wonderwall” and a harder rock version of “Don’t Look Back in Anger” are treated as pop songs vs the reverential treatment they would receive in later years. Sandwiched between the two tracks, is classic B-side “The Masterplan” with harmonica accompaniment that nearly eclipses its more famous ballad song mates. In a quirk of timing, the band debuts two new songs towards the end of the concert from the Be Here Now album that would be released a year later. John Squire adds a massive guitar solo to “Champagne Supernova” before the band closes with their cover of The Beatles’ “I Am The Walrus”. 

The Knebworth shows catch the band at their apex of the Mach II line-up with Guigsy on bass, Bonehead on guitar and Alan White on drums. As Noel later describes, Liam is at the peak of his powers in both voice and fashion. What the band delivers over and over again across the two discs is the sound of youth culture – being on the dole, drinking, listening to music, living your life, and living forever.  This line-up would carry on for one more album but it was never quite the same after Knebworth for both the band and its fans.

The DVD documentary of the weekend mixes in fans speaking of their experiences along with the concert performances.  The stories are interesting but may not hold up to repeated listening.  For many fans that were not there, it will be easy to see their own stories told on the screen.  One particular highlight being the lad that asks Liam for his tambourine half way through the show, then Liam finding him at the end to give it to him. 

While in the voiceovers, Noel is in full curmudgeon mode, that moment is a reminder of what the band meant to its fans and the love that poured back and forth. The young faces in the crowd singing every word back to the band with many dancing with abandon, looking more like a rave than a rock concert.  It’s a wonderful document that cements Knebworth 1996 back to a time that no longer exists.

9/10

Posted in Album Reviews

Damon Albarn – The Nearer the Fountain, More Pure the Stream Flows (2021)

The Nearer the Fountain, More Pure the Stream Flows

Damon Albarn’s first solo album in 7 years finds him in a somber mood.  Written during COVID lockdowns and inspired by both Iceland and his home in Devon, the black and white cover feels right for this album that captures both light and dark in the world.  Snow, rain, and especially the sea all play into the album’s themes.

“Darkness to Light” starts off with horns on a nice little tune about the dawn coming later in Iceland than elsewhere. Over an electronic beat, “The Cormorant” documents the bay that Damon regularly swims in, one that also offers a bit of danger depending on the current. “The Tower of Montevideo” takes its travels to South America and adds a bossa nova feel.

A propulsive, echoey beat in “Polaris” makes it a standout before the atmospheric album closer “Particles”.  Five singles have thus far been released from The Nearer the Fountain… including the excellent “Royal Morning Blue” that captures the wonder of the rain turning to snow.  “and nothing like this had ever happened… before” adds a wistful feel to the lyric.  With three instrumentals, Albarn’s latest can be a slow moving, dark affair but also adds sparkling beauty on several tracks.

7.5/10