Please enjoy this list of songs that have left an impression on me in the Year of Our Lord 2021. Full disclosure: although I had a lot of scope to define this list however I saw fit, I chose to go with music released in the past year. If I didn’t have such shallow concerns as ‘credibility’ or ‘dignity’ I would’ve probably just listed ten, possibly eleven, Sports Team songs. If any of the three to five people who will have read this far choose to carry on, you have my gratitude.
Blame – The Gabriels
These guys are incredible and I’m a huge fan of everything they’ve released. I tend to avoid modern soul, as I find contemporary production techniques sound too clean and leave me feeling hollow. However, Jacob Lusk’s transcendent vocal and the band’s orchestral, moving production elevate their sound above anything I have heard for quite some time. This might sound a bit of an odd comparison, but there is also something about this track that reminds me so much of Timber Timbre’s self-titled album. It could have slotted in seamlessly anywhere on that already perfect record, so it’s no wonder I fell in love with this track instantly.
That’s What I Want – Lil Nas X
Absolutely cracking pop tune from an absolutely cracking pop album. I totally had WAP fever last year and there’s always at least one pop song annually that gets lodged inside my head. Lil Nas X had a multitude of earworms on his Montero album and he’s high on my list of Roskilde-worthy pop acts for 2022.
Feel – Ġenn
I’m a big fan of Brighton-based group Ġenn. I love their expansive, psychedelic-tinged sound and otherworldly vocals. They have real stage presence too and I expect there will be a lot more heard from them in 2022. Their Liminal EP was released earlier this year, and I first heard Feel on the radio where it left a big impression on me. Not long after they were on the bill at a Roadkill event at Moth Club. This turned out to be a milestone gig for us as it was our last sit-down show of that seemingly interminable lockdown that stretched deep into 2021. I look forward to seeing them while standing up!
Space Golf – Hen Ogledd
Fucking love this track and they were awesome live when I finally got to see them. The first of several space-themed songs on this list, the harmonies on this track are ethereal and cut through with a wailing guitar that is still as spellbinding to me as the first time I heard it. I feel like this was somehow released twice.. once towards the end of last year and again early this year when it got lots of well-deserved radio play. In my head it’s a 2021 song and I couldn’t miss it off the list. For some reason I heavily associate it with walking down to Grodzinski’s bakery in Stamford Hill, which is only a good thing.
I Hate The Radio – Chubby & The Gang
No exhausting cycle around the sun is complete without a fresh tune seemingly written with the express intent of sucker punching you back to the heady, baffling days of summer romance. It’s the closing track of their latest album, The Mutt’s Nuts, which was my often-cited record of the year. It’s testament to Chubby Charles’ skill as a singer that he can imbue his gravelled vocals with the soul and melody needed to carry the band’s own warmth on this track. As a vaguely related aside, the album came out around the same time I finally gave up on listening to the radio. After the shafting of Shaun Keaveny at Radio 6, which I still haven’t gotten over, I couldn’t be bothered anymore with the tediousness of their presenters and playlists. Thank God it was such a great year for albums, even if the same can’t be said for on-air banter.
Czarwyn’s Theory of People Getting Loose – Czarface, MF DOOM, Kendra Morris
I couldn’t write a list about 2021 without including MF DOOM. His passing, announced on NYE having occurred a few months prior, was the final bullshit blow of 2020. People who revel in the emptiness of their inner lives often talk down the impact “celebrity” deaths can or should have on fans, but I went through a period of real mourning for DOOM. A fresh posthumous release came in the form of another collaboration with supergroup Czarface on the Super What? album. Unsurprisingly, there’s something so irresistibly old school about this track. Reminds me of a stone cold Wu-Tang classic like Biochemical Equation. There’s brilliant chemistry on this album and it’s a fitting addition to his legacy. RIP.
Snakes – Amyl & the Sniffers
What I love about Snakes is how Australian it is. Being as it is the land of my mother and somewhere I lived as a child, there’s a lot of viscerality ingrained in my memories. The dry heat of Adelaide and the stifling humidity of QLD, verandas, gum trees and the bloody snakes (amongst other beasties) for which I had hypervigilance drilled into me. I also think it’s the band’s most political song. The defiance of an upbringing played out feral in the mud and at the tip, working for your independence ‘cos no one else is going to hand it to you and finally changing your skin as you move into a wholly different life. You take with you just as much as you leave behind. I think as a band a lot of their kudos gets taken up by how they sound and their uncompromising delivery, but there is a poetic skill in their lyricism that hooks me every time. Comfort To Me is chock full of complex examples of wordcraft that are rare, at this level, in the “punk rock” oeuvre. I’ve also had “snakes in the chook pen” stuck in my head for about two months now.
Times – Wu-Lu
Wu-Lu, aka Miles Romans-Hopcraft, has been a defining act of 2021 for me. I think the first tune of his I heard was South ft. Lex Amor, which is similarly excellent and could easily have been on my list. A lot of artists are called ‘genre-blending’ these days, and given I barely understand genres at the best of times it doesn’t often mean much to me. This guy’s broad knowledge and talent as a producer and multi-instrumentalist shines through all his work however, so I can see why the label stuck. I was dead excited to see Wu-Lu at Green Man festival and it was a phenomenal performance. Bonus point is later that evening I saw Miles in the crowd. Normally I wouldn’t bother but it’s not very often you get to say thanks to the people making music you love. He was really friendly and warm, and it was great to see him perform again at End of the Road a few weeks later. Wu-Lu is definitely the artist I’m most excited about for 2022, and I can’t wait to see what he does at new label Warp Records.
Saturn Devouring His Sun – Blue Soul
This EP, and especially the title track, floored me when I first heard it on its release early this year. It’s a heaving, undulating mass of relentless acidic beats and intense bass that seems to have its own gravitational pull. It manages to capture the brutal and freakish potency of the Francisco de Goya painting after which it is (almost) named, and all the while evoking the chaotic violence of an imploding star system. It’s space age and ancient, superterrestrial and purgatorial all at the same time.
Moon Glider (International Teachers of Pop Remix) – Japanese Television
I’ve been a huge fan of JTV since the beginning. One of my borderline anorak obsessions is psych-surf; with the space element thrown in they were sidereal, sonic manna to my earthbound ears. I continue to be blown away with each new release, and their unfailing ability to innovate and craft totally immersive soundscapes is testament to both their individual and collective stellar talents. UNKLE, Gabe Gurnsey, International Teachers of Pop et al clearly think the same- each contributing a reworked track from the JTV III EP to a remixes record released in March this year. Everything on this five track EP slaps and 60% of my thought process for writing this list was deciding whether to go with Moon Glider or the Space Age Freak Out remix of Martian Soup. JTV deserve every bit of the recognition and praise they’ve been garnering, and long may it continue.