Top 20 albums 2021
By Willi Miller
20. Chris Corsano & Bill Orcutt - Made Out of Sound
Repress still forthcoming, now projected to Spring 2022.. LP version. "Sadly, many will hear Chris Corsano & Bill Orcutt's latest LP, Made Out of Sound, as 'not-jazz,' though it would be more aptly described as 'not-not-jazz.' In a better world, it would warrant above-the-fold reviews in Downbeat, or an appearance on David Sanborn's late-night show (if someone would only give it back to him). More likely, we can hope for a haiku review on Byron Coley's Twitter timeline to sufficiently connect the various improvised terrains trodden by this long-time duo -- but if you've been able to listen past the overmodulated icepick fidelity of Harry Pussy, it should surprise you not an iota that Orcutt's style is rooted as much in the fractal melodies of Trane and Taylor as it is in Delta syrup or Tin Pan Alley glitz.
visit Seattle Records website at www.seattlerecords.us Willie Miller the author works there and is happy to talk music with you,
19. Viagra Boys - Welfare Jazz
Viagra Boys, a post-punk outfit that hails from Sweden, is well named: it mocks society’s notions of manhood. Frontman Sebastian Murphy sings in a hoarse snarl, a parody of machismo whose surrealistic recklessness is leavened by arid wit. “We wrote these songs at a time when I had been in a long-term relationship, taking drugs every day, and being an asshole,” “I didn’t really realise what an asshole I was until it was too late, and a lot of the record has to do with coming to terms with the fact that I’d set the wrong goals for myself.” is what Sebatian Murphy said about the record. The band’s arresting grooves are reinforced by the unpredictability of their sonic palette. Their gritty, guitar-driven brand of rock is thrown into disarray by Oskar Carls’s recurring saxophone. Welfare jazz somehow doesn’t take itself too seriously, while simultaneously lays bare the band’s increasing concern with urgent contemporary issues; among them racism, classism, toxic masculinity and misogyny.
18. Lorraine James - Reflection
Loraine James’s second album comes with a stroke of genius, and I think her Bandcamp says it best - “Made in the summer of 2020. Reflection is a turbulent expression of inner-space, laid out in unflinching honesty, that offers gentle empathy and bitter-sweet hope.
Lorraine James’s second album comes with a st
2020 was tough for Loraine; unable to tour and build on the success of For You And I, Loraine was prolific in the studio, self releasing, plus releasing the well received stepping-stone Nothing EP, which realised a unique pop sensibility she develops more here. In contrast to the brash splashes of For You And I and the grimey anger of Nothing, Reflection is pared down and confident, taking the listener through how the year felt as a young Black queer woman and her” acolytes in a world that has suddenly stopped moving.”
17. King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard - Butterfly 3000
Stu Mackenzie, King Gizzard’s frontman and chief mischief-maker, tweeted in May that Butterfly 3000 is his “favorite” of their many, many albums. Even calling it his favorite recent Gizz LP would have been a bold statement — the Australian psych shapeshifters have issued 18 full-lengths in less than nine years (two in 2021, including February’s L.W.). But what felt like pre-release hype, an artist high on his own supply, turned out to be warranted self-praise: Butterfly, their most cohesive record since the full-prog excursion of 2017’s Polygondwanaland, sequences 10 synth-stacked cuts into one 43-minute fantasia — at turns danceable (“Catching Smoke”) and unnerving (“Blue Morpho”), sometimes both at once (“2.02 Killer Year”).
16. Hiatus Coyote - Mood Valient
15. Lapalux - Total Reality, Total Chaos EP
“Total Reality, Total Chaos is an experimental, ambient EP that is centred around tape loops I have made and recorded over the past few years. Loops weave in and out as you travel through different "rooms". I say rooms not in the literal sense but I imagine each loop has its own place in time and space. This is where the idea of this sound room comes from. Each room has its own feel, its own emotion, its own sense of place and setting. You pass through that room and open the door into the next. Each new room is a fleeting moment in time, it passes by delicately but fast. In a blink of an eye it's over much like life itself.” Lapaux writes about the EP on his bandcamp page. And “To be able to feel the big and small things that move inside of you. Thoughts, reflections, emotions, ideas. To be able to see all the colors, all the things that are before you.” are the first words we hear of Lapalux’s voice on the EP. The single is two tracks, the first being almost 13 minutes long and the second about 16 minutes long. The idea of taking us through different rooms that Lapalux presents translates well in the songs.
14. Black Country, New Road - For the First Time
When experimental rock seven-piece Black Country, New Road first announced their debut album, its tracklist seemed a bit… off. This most expansive and virtuosic of groups, every bit as jaw-dropping live as everyone has told you, were opting to properly introduce themselves with just six tracks, two of which had been released before. Could such a brief, already-familiar statement really do this project, so rich, so dense and allusive, the justice it deserved? ABSOLUTLEY! Let's talk about the song "Sunglasses", probably my favorite on here. The track follows a protagonist who is plaqued by anxiety while he's thinking about what a possible future of his life might look like. This anxiety leads to a full mental breakdown which is accompanied instrumentally by a slow and chaotic collapse.
After that the band plays a cool and stable rhythm as the protagonist puts on his sunglasses. Those sunglasses serve him as a shield, a wall to hide his emotions behind. But soon his facade is starting to crumble which is again accompanied by the members of the band adding volume and layers of instruments while Isaac's vocals get increasingly more dramatic. The band members are all in their early 20s and after all this is their debut. They delivered neither a classic nor an embarrassing flop that revealed them as a flavour-of-the-week fancy, but a pretty damn good album still with room to improve.
13. Backxwash - I Lie Here Buried With My Rings and My Dresses
Backxwash started putting out music a few years ago, and she quickly built up a following for her inventive use of metal samples in rap and a furious, infectiously angry sound. Her songs are creeping and uneasy, and they explore the constant fear and paranoia that religion can saddle someone with for life. This time around, Backxwash recruited musicians from the world of experimental hip-hop and noise and indie rock and punk to be part of her own harrowing arena. There’s the scraping and feverish “BLOOD IN THE WATER,” which was produced by Jonathan Snipes and William Hutson of clipping.; Speedy Ortiz’s Sadie Dupuis guests on “SONGS OF SINNERS,” her voice curdling into a chilling chorus that stands as one of the album’s highlights. “IN THY HOLY NAME” is built around a noise set from sound designer Lauren Bousfield. There’s no easy relief for pain. It just festers. It’s not a matter of feeling it so much as it is learning to move past it, teach yourself to not make it a part of your everyday life. Instead of enduring pain, it’s best to excise those demons entirely — through her music, Backxwash confronts the darkest parts of herself and depicts how impossible it can be to leave those parts behind. By doing so, she makes music that is thrilling and cathartic in its own right.
12. Xiu Xiu - OH NO
It's hard to determine what genre xiu xiu falls into. Their music tends to land somewhere comfortably in between accessible and off-putting. On OH NO, Xiu Xiu collaborates with several unexpected guests such as Drab Majesty and Sharon Van Etten. The production is exceptionally murky – mostly collaborators move through the dark, uncertain world Stewart manifests with his Scott Walker-like crooning of glossolalia. Though it's nowhere near being a conventional album, Xiu Xiu's attempt at a more digestible sound works wonders in keeping them fresh and unique, especially being hot off the tails of what might be their most uninspired album only two years ago. It's exciting to think what they'll do next with this more chewable sound, or if they'll turn back to their noisy and rough roots to do something entirely new all over again. That's the thing about Xiu Xiu, though. You never know what's going on in their mind, but you can always be sure that whatever it is will be nothing short of magical.
11. Tyler, The Creator - CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST
10 years ago, Tyler Creator tweeted “I WANT A GNASTA GRILLZ TAPE SO GOT DAMN BAD”. And nearly 11 years later, he did exactly that.. But probably not how he though he would when writing that tweet. CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST is Tyler’s victory lap after the release of the critically aclaimed IGOR in 2019. Tyler is easily one of the best rappers working today and it’s a thrill to hear him rap with such focus, Call Me If You Get Lost delights in continuing to subvert fan expectations. The Gangsta Grillz mixtape format is a perfect fit, giving Tyler the license to bounce between pastel-drenched R&B and coarse, full-throated boom-bap in short vignettes, punctuated with plenty of shit-talk from Drama and Tyler. Call Me If You Get Lost is a well-earned victory lap from an artist already looking ahead to the next unknown destination.
10. Matty - Danica
Another fantastic album from Matthew Tavares, former BADBADNOTGOOD multi-instrumentalist, One of his most concise works yet. Every track is a gem: some abrasive psychedelic moments, some quiet reflective ambience, some violin, some chiming bells. As stated on Tavares’s instagram “For the past few years whenever I sit down at the piano I just improvise whatever comes to mind with as little thought or consideration as possible. It’s mopre of a spiritual practice if anything but sometimes sometimes I record it” This is how “morningpiano” made it to Danica. Perhaps "Can't Change The Past" and "Control" are my 'rewind' tracks for now but all killer no filler… I hope Matthew enjoys his low profile as much as I guess he does. Any artist out there a bit screwed by any media attention should take a leaf from Matty. As prolific as he is unsung and a real joy to delve into his catalogue, never not interesting, all kinds of wonderful.
9. Calvin Love - Lavender
Canadian crooner Calvin Love’s work runs the gamut from danceable pop to existential dream. His latest record, Lavender, oozes with what you might call modern loneliness, in that there is no such thing as “away” or “getting away from it all.” Everything comes to us now, no matter where we are, despite whether we want it or not. “Connected” does not stop you from feeling alone or far afield from where you sense you ought to be. Recorded in multiple locations across Turtle Island, Love leans into his voice and his writing, transforming his sound and distilling ruminations into a palette that evokes Leonard Cohen, Gordon Lightfoot, and Nick Drake. From a basement in Edmonton, Alberta, on the Trans-Canada Highway, into the motels and shared couches of Los Angeles and, finally, in the foothills of the Rockies, Love plies his distinct cadence across a lush yet restrained soundscape.
8. Black Midi - Cavalcade
Black Midi have always maintained that they’ll never reach a final form. Their debut album ‘Schlagenheim’ put them at the vanguard of British guitar music, and their second album, “Cavalcade”, is still somehow a remarkable left turn. Across the album’s eight songs and 40 minutes, they traverse noise rock, unhinged jazz, ambient folk and beyond. Greep’s lyrical content also takes huge strides forward on the new album. Intent on telling theatrical third-person stories, the album tells tales of unhinged cult leaders (‘John L’), “an ancient corpse found in a diamond mine” (‘Diamond Stuff’) and much, much more. When Kwasniewski-Kelvin stepped back in early 2020, the now-trio recruited saxophonist and fellow Brit alumnus Kaidi Akinnibi, as well as keys player Seth Evans (a session musician who also plays with HMLTD), to join them in live shows. Both musicians have ended up playing on Cavalcade, and their contributions add an extra dimension to the band’s already complex sound. There is no such thing as casual listening when it comes to Black Midi. To listen to Cavalcade is to go down an ever expanding deeply weird yet brilliant rabbit hole.
7. Faye Webster - I Know I’m Funny haha
If you read between the lines on her fourth album then you might find the big thing in the world (a global pandemic shutting pretty much everything down) hiding there; I Know I’m Funny haha ambles about the malaise of life with no discernible direction or purpose. It’s there from the first line of the first song, “Better Distractions” While the album doesn’t color outside the lines as much as previous efforts (though the chuggy, restrained grunge wash on “Cheers” is a welcome outwards venture), theres not a boring moment on the record. “I Know I’m Funny haha” is an album that tracks the life-cycle of an ill-fated romance, with all the glorious highs and lows - trying to impress their family, sharing your deepest secrets and then scrabbling to find ways to piece yourself back together when it all goes tits up. Sonically, the album is uniquely georgous with lush, delicious textures. A sound Webster has created and mastered at this point.
6. Low - Hey What
As the world has become more stark and hostile, so too has Low’s music, with ‘Hey What’ rounding out a trifecta of records (this one follows 2018’s dread-fuelled ‘Double Negative’) that have finally allowed them to be the band they actually want to be, rather than the one we want them to be. It can’t be a coincidence that this, and the two records that proceed it, were produced by one BJ Burton, who has previously worked with the likes of Bon Iver, Charli XCX and Lizzo. The first thing you hear on opener White Horses is a guitar transformed into a kind of heaving, stuttering moan, followed by a rhythm track made up of crunching digital distortion. The latter sound might once have been produced by a guitar, but it’s impossible to say for certain. The song ends with an unadorned minute and a half of its unflinching pulse, which speeds up and becomes the basis of the second track, I Can Wait. Next, when you encounter the spongy sonic textures of All Night – you eventually give up trying to work out what instrument was originally involved – it’s hard not to be struck by the thought that on anyone else’s album, this might constitute the weirdest track; on Hey What, it feels like a kind of breather, before you’re plunged into the increasingly scourging soundworld of Disappearing. There is however an undeniable sense of triumph I get when listening to this record, a triumph that seems specifically perfect for this unique time in history.
5. Riley Walker - Course In Fable
Recorded in Walker's old hometown Chicago with John McEntire of Tortoise and The Sea and Cake producing, Course In Fable captures Walker locating his own unique voice, with eclectic influences - folk-rock avatars ala Nick Drake, Bert Jansch and John Martyn, time signature-shifting prog rockers (Walker's a keen Genesis fan), skronk a-go-go improv merchants, the jazz-hued abstractions of post-rock - rolled into one gloriously messy ball of musical play-do.The languid "Axis Bent" (with hints of Wilco, another Chicago institution) aside, each tune seems rammed with more ideas than many bands' entire catalogues. With the totally triumphant Course In Fable, Walker has devised the ultimate two finger salute to anyone who has ever pinned him down as an artist chained to vintage inspirations: this exciting, moving, beautiful and complex album sounds only and exclusively like Ryley Walker music. Listen to it with the attention it so richly deserves
4. Parannoul - To See the Next Part of the Dream
No one knows exactly who Parannoul is. What we know is was born and raised in Korea, and composes and produces all of his work in his bedroom before uploading the finished products to Bandcamp with no record labels needed. Although he humbly describes himself as “just a student writing music,” his sophomore LP To See the Next Part of the Dream is recognized as one of the best shoegaze albums of recent years. Shoegaze is defined by its ethereal characteristics, and To See the Next Part of the Dream focuses on an unachievable dream, one that cannot be attained with just hard work and persistence. From the outset, this album seeks to tell us Parannoul’s story, one of delusion, depression and of the uniquely Gen Z feeling of realising you are very much a child in an adult’s body. Revealed are his highs and his lows, the latter made obvious from the start with opener ‘Beautiful World’ and the former following in quick succession with the more elating ‘Analog Sentimentalism’. Even Parannoul’s emotionless vocals cannot dampen the feelings of euphoria portrayed by the track’s use of synth and alt-rock style hooks. “I just hope there are more active losers like me in the world,” Parannoul writes in the final sentence of the album’s description. To See the Next Part of the Dream is an album geared toward introversion, made by an anonymous artist who buries their vocals underneath an abundance of volume. They imagine their musical influences “living their lives, disappearing from the Internet,” but with an album as compelling as this, it feels virtually impossible for Parannoul to share the same fate.
3. Genesis Owusu - Smiling with No Teeth
In a time when so much of the music industry remains bogged down by labels, Genesis Owusu dwells in a world where genre is blissfully extinct. His domain is colorful and visceral, from bright live shows to handmade flamboyant outfits – and, of course, the music of his debut record, ‘Smiling With No Teeth’. Owusu’s songs are as jaunty as they are raw and raging. The fifteen songs take on an ambitious stretch of territory, but Owusu handles the ride. ‘Waitin On Ya’ channels Bon Iver or Prince, depending on how generous you’re feeling. ‘Don’t Need You’ moves like a new wave original, while the title track drips like a hot, languid afternoon. ‘Black Dogs’ aren’t the only creatures roaming these wilds: there are glimpses of Gorillaz and Beastie Boys too. Then, unexpectedly, ‘A Song About Fishing’ – a folk-pop lullaby that drifts into the r’n’b of ‘No Looking Back’. Nothing really makes sense, but somehow it all works.The songs are instantly memorable and the hooks are gripping. The themes of facade, deception, and masking resonate strongly, although blackness is the most captivating quality of the album.
2. Cassandra Jenkins - An Overview on Phenomenal Nature
On Cassandra Jenkins’ excellent sophomore record, An Overview on Phenomenal Nature, the songwriter welcomes you into a world composed of her experiences and innermost thoughts.Much of the record sees Jenkins dealing with the sudden and tragic loss of David Berman in 2019. Berman chose Jenkins to play in the Purple Mountains touring band, and the two had grown close. The stunning “Ambiguous Norway” finds her aboard an airplane, en route to an island called Lyngør in Norway, where she went to escape the grief. The trip itself is more explicitly referenced on the preceding track, “New Bikini.” Here, though, it’s portrayed with more poetry. An Overview on Phenomenal Nature may not have a sprawling tracklist, but it doesn’t need it. The seven songs that form the album act as separate worlds that draw the listener in. They each carry their own environment and feel like something you could live inside of, never wishing to leave. I hesitate to declare this Jenkins’ masterpiece, as it is only her second full-length record. While I feel like a persnickety English teacher, denying an A grade because no piece of work is ever perfect, this is damn near close.
1. Lingua Ignota - Sinner Get Ready
It took a few listens to Lingua Ignota’s third record, “Sinner Get to become my album the year. But the more I began to understand it, the more I began to love it. For one thing, this isn’t any other album that came out this year that felt so singular - while the influences are clear, there is nothing that sounds like “Sinner Get Ready”. I also loved the ambitious concept that Kristen somehow pulled off; making a noisy, visceral, terrifying album with mostly just acoustic folk instrumentation. The big reason why this album stuck with me is how I personally connected with it. I know that sometimes healing can be almost as painful as the trauma that originally occurred. And I know what it’s like to find yourself back in another terrible situation after barely escaping the one before. And I know that sometimes it can convince you that this is what life is always going to be like for you or that you deserve what’s happening. It’s been a terrible two years for all of us, they have taken so much. But if Kristin can survive, so can you. And in the fairly unlikely chance she’s reading this - I know you meant it as a acceptance of defeat, but believe me when I say that you deserve boundless love and paradise will be yours, Kristin. Thank you Lingua Ignota for everything that you do as an advocate and an artist, and thank you for making “Sinner Get Ready”, the best album of 2021.