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 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

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