Monday, January 10, 2022

2021 in Review

2021 proved to be a perhaps even more challenging year for me than 2020. Music has hardly been my focus lately, and Covid restrictions and anxiety prevented me from seeing many concerts. I had tickets for a twice-rescheduled Jesus & Mary Chain concert, but didn’t go, and after purchasing a ticket for Synästhesie in a fit of summer optimism, I returned it when things turned worse. In the end I only saw few outdoor concerts, most notably the Ich brauche eine Genie songbook release party, and one indoor show of Ian Fisher. I only managed a single other review, although I also released one more song of my own work. I didn’t even listen to music at my normal rate; I bought fewer records than I had in any year since 2002, which is before I had a job, started recording, or could drive myself to a record store.

Nonetheless, I did listen to some music. Here are my favorite releases of 2021:
  • Cremant Ding Dong - assorted singles - I’m so thrilled they’ve kept going. Many of their songs are still amusingly pandemic-related, but they’ve branched out, too, as with “Zu faul für’n eigenen Garten” (“Too Lazy for My Own Garden”). They write great lyrics and the cat still appears in every video.
  • Falsetto Boy - People Crying in Cars - Falsetto Boy has released a string of singles, EPs, and splits (to say nothing of his excellent releases as Cup Collector, among other projects), but this is his first album under this banner in ten years. It’s a double, and it’s his strongest and most cohesive work yet. The guitars are splendrous and the lyrics and vocals are affecting. He also released “I Can’t Do That Anymore” from a Snappy Little Numbers compilation as a single, which is a little burst of upbeat energy with appropriately downbeat lyrics.
  • Godspeed You! Black Emperor - G_d’s Pee at State’s End! - Have they released a bad album? No. They haven’t. The general pattern of post-apocalyptic ensemble rock and drone just gets refined with time as the rest of the world catches up to what they’ve been saying for 25+ years.
  • Lightning Bug - A Color of the Sky - Hazy dreampop of the best variety. I’d just found their earlier albums at the start of the year before this was even announced, and I couldn’t be happier. They’re all pretty similar, but this one sounds the best. It's got less noisy shoegaze and more wistful synth folk. I think the radio-static compression effect is overdone, but otherwise I love the production.
  • Nation of Language - A Way Forward - Their basic technique hasn’t changed since last year's Introduction, Presence, but they continue to churn out great synthpop. The drama has only heightened, though, and this album is actually slightly more upbeat and complex.
  • St. Vincent - Daddy’s Home - Still can’t beat Strange Mercy (2011), but I prefer the 70s pastiche to the drug-addled electro mayhem of Masseduction (2017). The gender politics speak to me (or at least amuse me) better, too.
  • Stereolab - Electrically Possessed: Switched On Volume 4 - It’s hard to compete with the first two editions of this series, but it’s still a gift that they finally caught up with the missing years. A few tracks feel like insubstantial filler, but most is high-quality, and the wide variety makes for a more captivating listen than any of their latter-day albums from the same era (well, except maybe Margerine Eclipse).
Again, a few additional honorable mentions:
  • The Besnard Lakes - Are the Last of the Great Thunderstorm Warnings - This is such a strange band. I love their grandiose vision, but I have trouble holding on to the individual songs. They went even harder into the long form, including a long closing drone at the end of the album. I’m not sure they used the time wisely. They also released the “Superego” single, which is a little poppier and more direct.
  • Kikagaku Moyo - Live at Levitation - I literally heard this band’s KEXP session playing at a tea store and knew I had to hear more. I caught the name and now I’m hooked. There’s a degree to which this sort of deeply psychedelic jamming gets predictable and redundant, but I love it anyway. It was pure coincidence that I hadn’t already caught wind of them via Levitation, and when I found this album, I had to have it.
  • Monta at Odds - Peak of Eternal Light - I hyped this Kansas City space rock band’s music last year, too, and it doesn’t seem that I’m gonna stop soon. This album didn’t immediately pull me in the way Argentum Dreams did, but it’s just about as good. Your Friend makes another appearance, too!
And lastly, a couple excellent albums (and a single) from recent years that I missed before but caught up with this year:
  • Sharon Van Etten - Are We There (2014) - After hearing her name for years now I finally gave her a proper listen. I get lost in the beauty, power, and finesse and of her voice every time regardless of where I’m at. The music is a perfect match, too, even if the lyrics don't always do it for me.
  • Hallogallo 2010 - “Blinkgürtel” / “Drone Schlager” (2010) - Two great kosmische songs from a collaboration between Michael Rother of Neu! and Harmonia, Steve Shelley of Sonic Youth, and Aaron Mullan. I don’t really know what the history of these tracks was, but it doesn’t matter. They’re on par with the classics.
  • TENGGER - Spiritual (2017), Spirtual 2 (2019), and Nomad (2020) - I’d wanted to see them at Synästhesie in 2019, but I missed my chance. I finally dug into their music, and I find their latest three albums utterly entrancing. They are kosmische drones without much of a melody, but I can put them on in the background and always end up feeling better.
Who knows what 2022 will bring. I’m just trying to find some peace and stability. Stay healthy!