Greetings dear friends and music lovers!
It's Memorial Day weekend once again, which means it's time for another McQ-curated look back at the music year just passed.
As with last year's 2020 mix collection, we're keeping things short (relatively speaking) and sweet for 2021, with one three-hour mix highlighting the songs and albums that struck Nancy and I most, and then a follow up Vol 2 - The Next 106 to round our 2021 selections to a nice even 150.
Truth be told, the pandemic and the loss of a regular commute has made it so much harder to listen deeply with regularity and curate these mixes with as strong a sense of certainty, so to temper that, most of the song descriptions here also include a few links to additional titles that also caught our attention/generated buzz in 2021.
As has been the case for several years now, downtempo hip hop, contemporary pop/R&B, intimate female singer-songwriter efforts, and revisionist punk/post punk (the year's most exciting genre: a true modern movement has emerged in South London) continued to be the flavors of the day and dominated the 2021 year-end best-album lists. We've got representative cuts from many of those lauded efforts here, but hopefully we've managed to unearth a few under-appreciated winners for you as well.
Anyway, enough talk.
Here are our Nancy and I's selections for the best songs/albums of 2021. Enjoy! Spotify Link.
ABOUT THE ARTISTS, ALBUMS, AND SONGS ON THIS MIX:
1. Robber - The Weather Station: A reckoning is coming. It has to. Capitalism may be the most successful and (when practiced halfway honestly) fairest economic system yet conceived by humankind, but it is also becoming clearer by the day that it could be the primary driver of humanity's extinction. Simply put, the climate change crisis we all face cannot be solved if capitalism, with its penchant for passing real environmental costs onto future generations and its "primacy of the stockholder" sociopathy, is allowed to continue unchecked as it is practiced today. But making the real, gargantuan changes necessary (insert plug for Kim Stanley Robinson's Ministry For The Future, the most important fiction work of our era, here) to address the problem and take on/compensate the entrenched industrial and nation-state interests that stand to lose trillions of dollars in sunken costs if these reforms are actually made will require an unprecedented level of global political will. Enter Canadian singer-songwriter The Weather Station, (aka Tamara Lindeman), doing her tiny part to shift the public conversation and urge all of capitalism's beneficiaries, including herself, to look at the system's hidden costs more closely in the brilliant opening track (McQ's #1 song of the year) to her fantastic 2021 full-length Ignorance (Strong Recommend).
2. G.S.K. - Squid: Is a major rock and roll response to this era's poptimist, R&B, and mainstream Hip Hop-dominance emerging in the fevered Windmill/Speedy Wunderground scene of South London? Is it something paradigm shifting on par with the mid-70s punk or early 90s grunge revolution, or is it just an exciting artistic moment anchored in a specific region that produces some great music, but ultimately changes nothing, like the UK's late-80s Madchester dance-rock heyday? At this point it's hard to say, as none of the Windmill Scene's major players - Black Country New Road, Shame, Black Midi, Goat Girls, or Squid - have released an album as singularly galvanizing as Never Mind The Bollocks or Nevermind, but man, is it fun to be excited about something new on the rock side of the musical spectrum again. Taking Punk/Post Punk as a root sonic template, but then rejecting almost everything else their Dad-rock father's held sacrosanct in the original punk/post punk era (brevity, simplicity, directness, and a deemphasis of instrumental virtuosity) the music coming out of this movement is utterly unpredictable, other than it will be weird and the vocalists are sure to adopt a Danny Elfman/David Byrne level of histrionic eccentricity. We'll feature efforts from all the major players on this mix, starting with a taut selection from our favorite album to come out of the movement in 2021, Squid's Bright Green Field (Solid Recommend)
3. Hurt - Arlo Parks: Just edging out Olivio Rodrigo's Sour as our favorite contemporary pop album of 2021, Londoner Arlo Park's Mercury Prize-winning Collapsed In Sunbeams (Strong Recommend) reminds both sonically and vocally of Lily Allen's breezy '06 classic Alright, Still, only with Allen's so crass, confrontational sass replaced with Park's gentle takes on mental health and sexual identity as conveyed through a series of personal vignettes reflective of her childhood. If you like representative track Hurt here, you'll love the album in full. And for those looking for more introspective contemporary pop, a trio of additional recommendations - Clairo's Sling, Lana Del Rey's Chemtrails Over the Country Club, and London Grammer's California Soil.
4. Chismiten - Mdou Moctar: The buzziest international release of 2021 comes to us from Niger guitar wunderkind Mdou Moctar, who fuses blistering rock with Tuareg blues traditions to often spectacular effect on his sixth release Afrique Victim (Solid Recommend). One listen to the album will make clear why many are calling Moctar, who built his first childhood guitar on his own with bicycle cables for strings, Africa's Jimi Hendrix. And for something on the more soothing side of the international spectrum, don't miss Arooj Aftab's delicate Vulture Prince.
5. Mork n Mindy - Sleaford Mods: Ultra prolific, irritable post-punk ranters Sleaford Mods are at once again with eleventh outing Spare Ribs (Solid Recommend), arguably the second best effort of their career behind 2014 commercial breakthrough Divide & Exit. And while all the typical Mods buttons are pressed - the loopy, super cool beats, Jason Williamson's razor-sharp working-class barbs - what's uniquely appealing about Spare Ribs is the inclusion of female collaborators for the first time on several of the album's best tracks, particularly the Billy Nomates collaboration Mork n Mindy featured here.
6. I Can Wait - Low: Continuing to experiment with the aggressive electronic fracturing they added to their trademark slow-core sound in 2018's fantastic Double Negative, Low dialed back the digital violence just enough on follow up Hey What (Highest Recommend) to let the songs take center stage, and the critics ate it up, pushing the album into the top 10 of nearly every year-end aggregate poll. But even more impressive than the songs and adventurous production is Hey What's astonishing flow. We're talking Dark Side Of The Moon seamlessness here. So if you like this kind of ambitious music, slap on a pair of head phones, step out for a 47-minute walk, and marvel at how from first note to last, this album never missteps or loses an ounce of musical momentum, despite its many quieter passages. Twenty-plus years in, Low is making the best music of their career. A minor classic.
7. Paprika - Japanese Breakfast: What a year for Japanese Breakfast's Michelle Zauner! Not only was her band's latest release Jubilee (Strong Recommend) another regular on the year-end top ten lists (and our favorite indie album of 2021), but her non-fiction debut Crying In H-Mart, a memoir reflecting on her relationship with her recently passed Korean mother, debuted at number two on the New York Times non-fiction best-seller list and went on to be named Goodread's best non-fiction book of 2021. But as to what inspires an artist to do so much in such a short span, look no further than Jubilee's lush opener Paprika, in what may be the most joyous celebration of the thrill of performing I have ever heard. And for other winning 2021 female-fronted indie releases, give a listen to Snail Mail's Valentine, Indigo De Souza's Any Shape You Take, Pom Pom Squad's Death Of A Cheerleader, and especially Beach Bunny's delightful jangle-pop EP Blame Game.
8. Snow Day - Shame: With one foot planted in the straightforward post-punk revival led by the likes of Idles, Iceage and Fontaines D.C., and the other foot dipping into the proggy, more adventurous waters of the emergent Windmill scene, Shame's sophomore outing Drunk Tank Pink (Solid Recommend) is one of the most varied post-punk efforts of 2021. From spiky hard-hitters like Alphabet, Nigel Hitter and Water In The Well, to the marvelously dour Human, For A Minute, there's a lot to love, but the standout is the album's most expansive number, the ever-shifting Snow Day with its gloriously muddy backing vocals. And for more solid 2021 releases projecting similar punk vibes around gruff, limited vocals, be sure to check out Idle's latest CRAWLER, and Iceage's almost Stones-y Seek Shelter.
9. Walking At A Downtown Pace - Parquet Courts: Following a long tour in support of sixth album Wide Awake, Parquet Courts felt the need to break free from rock-band expectations on seventh album Sympathy For Life (Solid Recommend). So, taking inspiration from a number of sources - the communal dance club freedom of local New York hot spot The Loft, acid-fueled trips to the gym, and the psychedelia/techno mergers that infused Primal Scream's Screamadelica - the band retreated to a favored recording spot in the Catskills and did it the CAN way, recording long extended jams for hours, then crashing out while producer Rodaidh McDonald painstakingly honed the material down to radio-length songs. The resulting record definitely exhibits the sense of freedom the band was hoping to create, but despite all the specific influences, ends up reminding more in textures and sound of another iconic touchstone, The Talking Head's Remain In Light. And for another American punk act doing things differently in 2021, check out the Viagra Boys Morphine-accented Welfare Jazz.
10. You And I - Valerie June: Nancy and I had the good fortune of catching folk-firecracker Valerie June recently with some good friends, and the show only solidified my belief that Ms. June rates among the most under-appreciated artists of this moment. No, she is not "cutting-edge," but the Appalachia-tinged country-soul belter has a sound and songwriting style that is somehow universal and strikingly unique at the same time, and she's put out two near-knockout albums in a row, with her latest, From The Moon And Stars: Prescriptions For Dreamers (Strong Recommend), capturing a dash of Van Morrison Astral Weeks-flavored mystical magic. And for other mystical/magical roots offerings, check out bluesman Eric Bibb's Dear America, Jimbo Mathus collab with Andrew Bird These 13, and especially guitarist Yasmine William's lovely collection of acoustic instrumentals, Urban Driftwood.
11. Introvert - Little Simz: And now (right before we get to McQ's favorite album of 2021) the consensus number one album of 2021, UK rapper Little Simz's wildly ambitious Sometimes I Might Be Introvert (Strong Recommend). Truth be told, I still like her previous effort, the more minimalist but cooler feeling Grey Area, better, but there's no denying the force and creativity on display in this turn towards My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy-styled maximalism and early St. Vincent-styled film-score augmentation. And never does the wide-ranging stew of influences coalesce more perfectly than on album opener Introvert, easily one of the best songs of the year. As for the best of the rest from 2021 women working the contemporary R&B/Hip Hop angle, six other titles stood out - Summer Walker's Still Over It, Doja Cat's Planet Her, indie-darling pinkpantheress's to hell with it, experimental R&B'er L'Rain's Fatigue, Spelling's Kate Bush-tinged The Turning Wheel, and especially, Jazmine Sullivan's Heaux Tales - which was Pitchfork's number one album of 2021 and probably should have made this mix, but gets two track inclusions on Volume 2 - The Next 106.
12. Movement 1 - Floating Points: A glorious organic fusion of three disparate genres - jazz, IDM, and orchestral music - Promises (Highest Recommend), a supremely meditative single composition collaboration between British electronic act Floating Points, jazz legend Pharoah Sanders, and the London Symphony Orchestra is not for everyone, but it is McQ's Best Of...'s album of the year. Chill, beautiful and so so calming, it's a bit unlike anything that's come before. Going with the album's feathery opening track for this mix here, but the whole album is required listening. And for other modern jazz explorations, take a chance on Sons Of Kemet's sophomore full-length Black To The Future and/or Badbadnotgood's latest Talk Memory.
13. I Don't Live Here Anymore - The War On Drugs: Though not as entrancing as The War on Drugs' magnificent previous two outings (Lost In The Dream and A Deeper Understanding, the more 80s-inflected I Don't Live Here Anymore (Solid Recommend) still provided the best yacht-rock vibes of 2021, offering a number of engaging moments and stellar instrumental passages. Going with the title track here to represent the album over the record's stirring acoustic opening track Living Proof.
14. Champagne Corolla - Steve Earle: Over the years, we've championed many albums that have tackled the death of a loved one, but none done quite like Steve Earle's J.T.. Rather than dive into the personal impact of his son Justin Townes Earle's passing, Earle Sr. choose instead to honor his late child's professional accomplishments with a full album of passionate covers from J.T.'s catalog. Done in collaboration with his veteran backing band The Dukes and surviving son Ian, Earle has declared the album "... the only way I knew to say goodbye." Champagne Corolla featured here is my favorite of many fitting tributes from the record. And for more country-rock explorations of weighty topics, take a listen to Kacey Musgraves' pop-leaning divorce exploration star-crossed or Lukas Nelson And The Promise Of The Real's more varied but often uplifting A Few Stars Apart.
15. Calling Me Home - Rhiannon Giddens & Francesco Turrisi: Though it often sounds as old as time, contemporary folk duo Rhiannon Giddens' & Francesco Turrisi's Calling Me Home (Solid Recommend) is as Covid-influenced as any 2021 release. Locked down for an extended period of time in Ireland, a land unfamiliar to either, the couple hunkered down and got to work, finding comfort in each other and their songwriting, but aching for suddenly distant family and friends. Any folk fans looking to make some emotional sense of what we've all just endured the last two years will find much to cherish in the album, and for those who want to dive deeper into the folk universe, we also wholeheartedly recommend Alison Russell's more Americana-centered Outside Child.
16. Her Hippo - New Long Leg: Backed by blistering post-punk riffs, polished to a high-hipster sheen by producer and PJ Harvey collaborator John Parish, and centered around Florence Shaw's wickedly sardonic lyrics, South London upstart Dry Cleaning's full-length debut New Long Leg (Solid Recommend) is the most celebrated spoken-word rock album in ages, finishing in the top 10 of every aggregate best album of 2021 poll. Going with favorite riff fest Her Hippo here over lyrically stronger singles Scratchcard Lanyard, Strong Feelings, and More Big Birds, but all four songs are great. And for more spoken-word action with a post punk vibe, check out veteran Scottish duo Arab Strap's latest As Days Get Dark.
17. Not Dead Yet - Lord Huron: I really can't explain it, maybe it's the way the lead guitar and backing vocals consistently threaten to wander off into a different song of their own, but I find this simple number from Lord Huron's career-best album Long Lost (Solid Recommend) irresistible. And for other titles with surprising country-rock charm, give a listen to Hiss Golden Messenger's winning Quietly Blowing It, Robert Plant and Alison Krause's second full-length collaboration Raise The Roof, and Cory Hanson's appealingly twee yet jammy Pale Horse Rider.
18. drivers license - Olivia Rodrigo: Question: 1.4 billion Spotify listener's can't be wrong, can they? Answer: Of course they can, but in this specific case, they are not. Though only 19, Olivia Rodrigo's insanely successful SOUR (Solid Recommend) might be the strongest teen-leaning pop album since Lorde's Melodrama or Taylor Swift's Folklore, stuffed with winning cell-phone-in-the-air arena-ballads and a pair of fantastic punk-pop numbers. But at the end of the day, the album's monstrous impact all circles back to drivers license, the definitive teenage heartbreak song of 2021. And for those who like their contemporary pop a little more daring as well as just damn good, be sure to give Billie Eilish's 2021 torch-song collection Happier Than Ever and Halsey's ballsy Trent Reznor & Atticus Finch produced-foray into industrial rock If I Can't Have Love, I Want Power a spin.
19. Fucking Wizardry - Self Esteem: Powered by a thundering, percussion heavy production and positively soaring gospel choruses, Prioritise Pleasure, the latest outing from Brit and former Slow Club-founder Rebecca Lucy Taylor (aka Self Esteem), is an easy call for the best dance album of 2021, no matter how little traction it garnered in the states. And while Fucking Wizardry isn't the album's best track (co-honors there belong to the ballads John Elton and I Do This All The Time), it is far more representative of the album's vibe as a whole, hence its inclusion here. And while we're all swaying to main stage electro-grooves, be sure to also check out Chvrches latest Screen Violence.
21. Sekwar - Liars: My vote for the best Kid A-like album of the year goes (and not for the first time over this last decade) to Liars, and their latest killer assemblage of dread-inducing wallows The Apple Drop (Solid Recommend). And for more cool 2021 stuff on the dark-side of the electro-rock spectrum, DARKSIDE's Spiral, Ghengis Tron's Dream Weapon, and Clark's Playground By The Lake all offer arresting moments, or just circle back to the original, as Radiohead released a new triple-disc collection of near everything that came out of the Kid A/Amnesiac sessions KID A MNESIA.
21. Now You're Here - Yola: And now the year's best retro-soul release, Stand For Myself (Solid Recommend), courtesy of producer/Black Key Dan Auerbach and veteran British howler and longtime Phantom Limb frontwoman Yola (aka Yolanda Claire Quarterly). Sprawling from classic disco (Dancing Away In Tears) to smooth 70s R&B balladry (Now You're Here) to gospel-tinged revelries (Diamond Studded Shoes) to fiery southern-rockers (Stand For Myself), Yola covers the full gamut of American soul, with one foot always firmly anchored in the past, and her smooth but potent voice always firmly in control. A hard album not to like. And for another fine British retro-soul effort, this time with more of an Amy Winehouse-vibe, check out Joy Crookes' debut Skin.
22. Sad Cowboy - Goat Girl: Yet another South London post-punk act making a strong showing in 2021, Goat Girl is notable as the only all-female act currently front-and-center in The Windmill Scene, and also for its penchant for occasionally dropping its post-punk affections to fall into a more 70s West Coast rock sound. They do that here on the awesome Sad Cowboy from sophomore effort On All Fours (Solid Recommend), a song which reminds as much of Stevie Nicks as it does Souixie And The Banshees.
23. Hard Drive - Cassandra Jenkins: A still-emerging artist from a musical New York family who cut her teeth backing up live performances for the likes of Eleanor Friedberger, David Berman, and the Hold Steady's Craig Finn, Cassandra Jenkin's sophomore effort An Overview On Phenomenal Nature (Strong Recommend) is a brief, gorgeous collection of ethereal dream-folk ruminations and one of the best front-to-back listens of the year. So hard to pick a favorite, but ultimately went with critical darling Hard Drive over the equally worthy tracks Michelangelo, New Bikini, and Ambiguous Norway.
24. Sunglasses - Black Country, New Road: The longest and weirdest song on this mix actually dates back to 2019, when it was first released as South London post-punkers Black Country, New Road's second single for Speedy Wunderground. But as it has been repurposed as the central track for the band's 2021 full-length debut For the first time (Solid Recommend), and as it is perfectly emblematic of the rest of the angsty madness contained within, it felt right to include the song here. And if this song floats your boat, you may also want to skip ahead to the band's latest release Ants From Up Here, which presently sits atop most 2022 aggregate album polls.
26. Lipstick On The Glass - Wolf Alice: The best rock album of 2021, Wolf Alice's Blue Weekend (Strong Recommend) is the always-exceptional live act's strongest recorded effort to date, with lead singer Ellie Roswell's mesmerizingly overdubbed vocals often the star of stars. So many great numbers to chose from on this one, but going with the Heart-like tale of romantic compromise Lipstick On The Glass over equally worthy numbers like Smile, The Beach, How Can I Make It Okay?, Delicious Things, and The Last Man On Earth.
27. NEW HEART DESIGN - Turnstile: On might have to look all the way back to Refused 1998 classic The Shape Of Punk To Come to find a hardcore punk album that hit with such an outside-the-mosh-pit inventiveness as Baltimore quintet Turnstile's rapid-fire third outing GLOW ON (Solid Recommend). 80s synths, classic rock solos, cowbell freak outs and all other manner of typically anathema non-hardcore touches find their way into the structure of these songs, while in no way dimming the full-throttled rush. That said, I am going with the album's biggest deviation from hardcore tradition, New Heart Design (over unstoppable crushers like Mystery, Holiday, and Blackout) to give more mainstream-oriented listeners an easier entry point. And for more 2021 hardcore excellence, check out Detroit hardcore outfit The Armed's fuzzed-out fourth release Ultrapop.
28. Favor - Julien Baker: With its scorched-earth emotionalism, Julien Baker's heart-on-sleeve Little Oblivions (Solid Recommend) was the strongest solo effort last year from the prolific boygenius clan, though close friend and bandmate Lucy Dacus gave Baker a run for her money with the also solid Home Video.
29. 10,000 Tears - Ghetts: Now going back-to-back with my favorite male-fronted Hip-Hop albums, one from each side of the pond, we start in the UK with emerging grimer Ghetts' third outing Conflict Of Interest (Solid Recommend), which effectively mixes tough, gritty, bare-bones raps with a number of guest-star-laden, J Hus-style smoother numbers like the album's biggest hit, the Ed Sheeran collab 10,000 Tears. And for more quality 2021 grime outings, check out Dave's sophomore outing We're All Alone In This Together.
30. Void - Little Nas X: A big surprise for me, Little Nas X proves to not be the one-hit wonder I once assumed him to be with his full-length debut MONTERO (Solid Recommend), one of the most musically colorful pop-leaning hip hop albums I've heard since Kanye's and Outkast's glory days. Fans of MONTERO will also want to check out Tyler, The Creator's even more lauded Call Me If You Get Lost and Ye's flawed but occasionally inspired Donda. And for those who prefer their US hip hop hard and lean, lots of 2021 options including Armand Hammer's button-pushing Haram, Madlib's Donuts-styled beats-only collection Sound Ancestors, Dean Blunt's super experimental Black Metal 2, Declaime's collab with Madlib In The Beginning Vol 1, Vince Staple's self-titled release, and Mach-Hommy's Prayer For Haiti.
31. Write A List Of Things To Look Forward To - Courtney Barnett: Courtney Barnett's Things Take Time, Take Time (Mild Recommend), was not the brilliant lyricist and lively slack rocker's finest effort, but I adore this one disarming country-rocker, and couldn't keep it off this mix.
32. Flying Dream 1 - Elbow: Veteran Brit-rockers Elbow just continue to mellow, which given how relaxed they were when they first hit twenty years ago is really saying something. But their Gabriel-esque artistry and attention to instrumental detail has never waned, making 2021 release Flying Dream 1 (Solid Recommend) a treasure trove of small-scale wonders, as evidence by the gentle piano accents employed on the title track here. And for more in this vein, try Villagers' Fever Dreams and/or The Antlers Losing Light next.
33. Unpleasant Breakfast - The Hold Steady: Five years on since the return of keyboardist Franz Nicolay launched the band a long stretch of concert residencies around the globe, indie stalwarts The Hold Steady received a reward for that hard work last year when their eighth full-length Open Door Policy (Solid Recommend) became their first album to debut in the Billboard Top 10. But while they may suddenly be reaching a wider audience, long time fans will be happy to know that all the band's revered edgier trademarks - the hard-rocking bar-band grooves, the broad observational swings between small-scale silliness and penetrating emotional poignancy, and Craig Finn's one-of-a-kind lyrics - remain undimmed on Open Door Policy, reaching a peak on the funny/sad tale of a ghost-inspired romance Unpleasant Breakfast included here. And for more 2021 efforts from mid-aught acts still keeping at it, check out The Killer's Nebraska-inspired Pressure Machine, My Morning Jacket's rocking eponymous ninth release, and The Black Keys blues standards collection Delta Kream. And then for a younger UK take on the whole E-Street-thing, check out Sam Fender's spirited Seventeen Going Under.
34. My Confessor - The Anchoress: One of my two favorite cuts from Welsh art-rocker Catherine Anne Davies' (aka The Anchoress) The Art Of Losing (Solid Recommend), this song and the loss-themed album stands here as the best of several fine 2021 goth-tinged releases. The other three 2021 records to pursue if this type of arty, downbeat fare appeals are Lingua Ignota's raw, confrontational SINNER GET READY, Anna B Savage's A Common Turn, and Marissa Nadler's The Path Of The Clouds.
35. Birthday / The Pain - For Those I Love: As has already been conveyed with Dry Cleaning, spoken-word is experiencing a resurgence in Ireland and the UK, and few efforts in this vein were more compelling in 2021 than the self-titled debut of For Those I Love. The brainchild of Dublin-producer/vocalist David Balfe, it is the second significant album of the last few years (this first being The Murder Capital's When I Have Fears) to focus on the suicide of Dublin punk legend and ubiquitous collaborator Paul Curren, who also happened to be Balfe's bandmate and best friend. With a rough, vocal delivery reminiscent of The Street's Mike Skinner, but a warm, bedroom pop/plunderphonics sound reminiscent of The Avalanches at their best, it's not only one of the year's most thoughtful records, but one of 2021's most original sonic concoctions as well.
36. Hertz - Amyl and The Sniffers: Voted Australia's best live act for two years running, Melbourne punk-rockers Amyl And The Sniffer's Comfort To Me (Solid Recommend) recaptures punk rock fury in all its Wendy O'Williams/Plasmatics glory, with a dash of AC/DC caliber party-rock riffage thrown in for good measure. And while few 2021 albums could match the non-stop female-fronted frenzy of Comfort To Me, LA-based Illuminate Hotties' 2021 release Let Me Do One More is probably the next best place to turn to keep such vibes going.
37. Waitin' On Ya - Genesis Owusu: Staying in Australia, we turn to Australia's best album of 2021 (and McQ's Best Of...'s favorite male R&B/Funk album of 2021 as well), Genesis Owusu's marvelously eclectic Smiling With No Teeth (Strong Recommend). As wide-ranging stylistically as a classic Prince album, but with a gruffer, more-rock leaning flavor all its own, No Teeth is an endless parade of endearingly distinct and creative little gems, from the intensity of its Death Grips-styled opener On The Move! to the Oingo Boingo-inflected The Other Black Dog to the Voodoo-channeling title track to the humbled orchestral pop of A Song About Fishing to the super-smooth R&B of representative track Waitin' On Ya here.
38. Good Woman - The Staves: I'm a sucker for blood harmonies, and no album in 2021 scratched my "First Aid Kit" itch better than English indie-folk sister act The Staves' Good Woman (Solid Recommend).
39. Dethroned - Black Midi: Our final highlight from the UK Windmill Scene comes from the most popular band of the movement, Black Midi, who put their unreal chops on full display in this crazed, bizarre number from their critically lauded sophomore effort Cavalcade (solid recommend). Hold onto your hats for this one.
40. Back To Oz - Sufjan Stevens & Angelo De Augustine: The concept sounds weird AF: inspired by the 20th century surrealists, Sufjan Stevens and collaborator Angelo De Augustine went on an extended movie-watching binge, with the idea of then converting their most visceral impressions and film-to-film connections (as opposed to any true narrative details) into song. Movies as wide ranging as all-time-greats like Wings Of Desire and All About Eve, genre classics like Point Break and The Silence Of The Lambs, and low brow cash-in sequels like Hellraiser 3 and Bring It On, Again all somehow drift into the mix, but as odd and experimental as the process sounds, the end result A Beginner's Mind (Solid Recommend), is almost constantly gorgeous - forty-five minutes of pure Simon-and-Garfunkel-inspired folk-rock bliss. And for other idiosyncratic 2021 indie/alt rock efforts worth a spin, I'd recommend The Choral's warm Coral Island, Teenage Fanclub's Endless Arcade, and especially Super Furry Animals frontman Gruff Rhys' latest solo effort Seeking New Gods.
41. Ritchie Sacramento - Mogwai: Well here's some encouragement for you old-timer's still getting after it. Twenty-five years and ten full-length outings into their career as Scotland's preeminent, cerebral post-rockers, the Glasgow quartet landed their first #1 album on the UK Charts and first ever Mercury Prize nomination with what very well may be their best (and definitely is their warmest) album yet, As The Love Continues (Solid Recommend). Ritchie Sacramento stands here not just as fine representative track for the album, but for two other excellent post-rockish efforts that almost made this mix, Godspeed You! Black Emperor's reliably epic G-d's Pee AT STATE'S END, and critic's death-metal-act-of-choice Deafheaven's daring turn towards pure, non-assaultive shoegaze Infinite Granite.
42. Balcony Man - Nick Cave & Warren Ellis: Completely in line stylistically with the last three brooding Bad Seeds albums, but not as good or compelling as any of them, Nick Cave and Warren Ellis's scaled-back CARNAGE (Strong Recommend) nonetheless manages to be one of the best releases of 2021, powered by Caves' unrelenting spiritual seeking and Ellis's unfailing instincts as an instrumental texturist. Tough call choosing between the touching ballad Balcony Man here and the McCloskeys-inspired gun-nut take down White Elephant as representative track, but for just this once, positivity wins out with our obligatory annual Nick Cave selection.
43. Run Run Run - Kurt Vile: There was no way an all-star tribute to my favorite album ever was going to go unrecognized on this mix, but "surprise!" the most exciting cover on I'll Be Your Mirror: A Tribute to The Velvet Underground & Nico is of the original's least memorable song. Unlike many of the other covers on the album, most notably Andrew Bird's Venus In Furs and St. Vincent's All Tomorrow's Party, Kurt Vile doesn't do much restructuring, he just does it the the Spinal Tap way, cranking the guitars up to 11 and letting it rip, transforming Run Run Run into the jammy head banger the song was probably always meant to be. And for those seeking more tribute album creativity, turn next to the all-star ten-year anniversary reworking of Sharon Van Etten's early breakthrough and still best album - Epic Ten.
44. At The Holiday Party - St. Vincent: After several albums trending in an increasingly electronic direction, St. Vincent does a musical about-face into the world of 70s-inspired glam on sixth album Daddy's Home (Solid Recommend). Loaded with tasty retro touches, it's nonetheless Ms. Clark's most personal album to date, mostly focused on her financier father's recent release from prison after a twelve-year incarceration for securities fraud and her own desires to maintain maximum personal freedom. But in the lovely, late track At The Holiday Party (a song Clark calls her version of the Rolling Stone's You Can't Always Get What You Want), Clark turns empathetically towards a struggling friend who's trying too hard to maintain a positive social veneer. And finally, one last additional recommendation, for more female-fronted light psychedelia, take a listen to Jane Weaver's playful Flock (Solid Recommend).