Essential Listening: The Best Albums Of 2021

Amidst the threat of yet another lockdown, cancelled Christmas parties, the prospect of me spending my first Christmas ever alone and potentially no football on Boxing Day (which is a defacto referendum on whether greed for the few is more important than common sense for the many, you’ll never guess who I think will win), instead of dwelling of the oddity of the new normal and whether this fucking nonsense will ever end (the pessimist in me is beginning to have doubts) I’m going to accentuate the positive. No roast Turkey for Christmas dinner! I’ve always hated that tradition. And a quiet Christmas of solitude sounds as if it’ll be a good opportunity to retreat into my own headspace for a couple of weeks; no work, no thoughts of Covid, or catching it, and generally taking measures to avoid as much irritating bullshit as I can.

So to this best releases of 2021 list. Ignore the post title, it’s a legacy of a time when I adhered to stringent criteria, in an attempt to…be more journalistic? How pathetic. There’s a lot of Bandcamp stuff on here this year. You can glean from this, that, similar to Soulseek, it’s a great resource for all kinds of music, new and reissued, that I can’t live without, and that I’m probably spending too much time (and money) on it.

Still, the world’s going to hell in the most tedious way possible, so if you enjoy something, I say indulge yourself. I just can’t abide the blithe, retrograde demonisation of consumerism, hedonism and materialism. But hey, let the attention seeking try-hard lot try and cancel them and see where it gets them.

Speaking of tedious, and this is yet another reason to be good to yourself (albeit in moderation) last Friday I queued in the cold for six hours to get my second vaccination shot. I should be thankful I got it and that it wasn’t even colder and raining, but man, waiting six hours for anything is misery. I could offer a long rant on many governments failing to offer a larger capacity for access to vaccines, that we’ve botched the whole thing from the beginning, but there are enough people making that point without me labouring it here. Yes I had the discipline for altruism, and so do a lot of other folks, but that alone won’t sustain me and this whole thing just doesn’t feel sustainable.

Even the topic of Covid in infecting our thoughts, leading to morose and inane conversations. I got a cab to the walk in vaccination site and when I told the cabbie I was going to get my second shot, he started ranting about how all this is a result of our unhygienic society. Before regaling me with examples, including when they were cleaned annually, that a disgusting amount of scum came out of the taps in the takeaway he used to work in.

What made the whole day remotely bearable was a really good pair of in-ear Sennheiser buds (and lossless audio – MP3 is shit, and Steve Jobs is scum to us audiophiles), and that you can listen to practically anything anywhere at any time. It made me appreciate music’s companionship and how much better our lives have become by technology (and vaccines).

And in an effort to not be boring I’m going to keep my reasons for these album recommendations concise, because you’re here for that and not pretentious prose, or anymore chat about fucking Coronavirus.

As per usual this list arrives in alphabetical order, no hierarchies here. Just ten releases that I enjoyed and will continue to. I’ll post my top songs of 2021 next week. Merry Christmas to the lot of you.

Bodytronixxx – LGHTR KRU: Nite Mode Vol.1

Stripped out atmospheric Vaporwave. Soft base lines and keyboards married with sharp inflections and sultry vocals. Certain elements made me think of Vangelis’ Blade Runner sound track, while also evoking the bedroom producer aesthetic. Another release that deserves your support.

Can – Live in Stuttgart ‘75

If you’re as undercapitalised in your collection of live albums as I am this is a good place to start, and if you mistakenly believe Pink Floyd to be truly avant-garde prog rock, this will correct that too. It also works well as a vector into Can’s wider discography. For the uninitiated Tago Mago might be disorienting, but five long jam sessions, where Michael Karoli’s guitar work secures central billing, will make sense to everyone.

DJ Sprinkles – Gayest Tits & Greyest Shits: 1998-2017 12 Inches & One-Offs

An absolute must for deep house heads. While Midtown 120 Blues is Thaemlitz’s most celebrated album (and the Will Long remixes are also stonking), this reissue/compilation is as close as you can get to that. Offers a thorough overview of an influential career that deserves far wider recognition than it’s received.

Floating Points, Pharaoh Sanders & London Symphony Orchestra – Promises

It’s a combination that promises (see what I did there? :rolleyesemoticon:) much and delivers. The lush Orchestra strings and Shepherd’s pings marry with Sanders’ sax eventually initiating a cataclysmic crescendo. If this doesn’t give you the feels then you’re an emotional husk and or serial killer.

Gnod – Easy to Build, Hard to Destroy

Influenced by Spirtualised (Spacemen 3), Brian Jonestown Massacre and Sun City Girls. Regardless the signatory vastness of their sound remains. More psyched out and less abrasive than Mirror or Infinity Machines – two other recent releases of theirs that I checked out and enjoyed.

Godspeed You! Black Emperor – G_d’s Pee AT STATE’S END!

Ignore the esoteric and silly album title. The song titles are far more fitting of a serious noise album, which this is. This is immersive music that’s menacing, yet that also ascends dramatically and emphatically, carrying you with it. Good pair of over-ear headphones recommended.

MMM (Errorsmith & Fiedel) – On The Edge

If you’re into early Booka Shade, this’ll work. It also borrows grime inflections, and utilises sound isolation that Stockhausen and Gage were famous for. Found it good music to exercise to, even though you can tell it’s been put together with delicate precision.

Planet Love Vol. 1 – Early Transmissions 1991-95

Embrace the quaintness of its pastiche. Let’s you nostalgically travel on the SS Hacienda through space, back to certain time where wearing a garish shell suit while on acid and ecstasy was an average weekend. Song titles such as ‘Mad Monks On Zinc’, ‘3 Nudes In a Purple Garden’ and ‘Dionysian Dream Statement’, gives you hint of what to expect, but think a mixture of Tangerine Dream, Underground Resistance and B12 if you still aren’t getting what I mean.

Skee Mask – Pool

The case for diversity and a homage. The punchy rave sonics are almost Aphex Twinian, there’s a nod to LFO with a track titled LFO and towards the end it sounds very early Squarepusher at times. I mean, the album doesn’t really have a theme or thread, but it’s a bloody good collection of tracks and ideas made with impeccable execution.

Various – Tresor 30

There’s a good chance you’ll already own a few of these offerings in this compilation, and I do, but don’t be dissuaded, as a collection this works cohesively. In case you didn’t know the specifics, this is an ode to the artists that the Berlin Tresor club has hosted in its thirty year existence.

About Wichita Lineman Was A Song I Once Heard

Wichita Lineman Was A Song I Once Heard. 'Mediocre blogger and a piously boring and unfunny writer'. Enthusiastic purveyor of the KLF sheep.
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