It’s our 7th annual best music blog

The more we do this, the more ridiculous it seems to claim these 10 selections of music are ‘the best’. More reasonably, here is some fantastic new music by a few well-known, a few lesser known and some newer artists. The pandemic is still with us, giving us all the more reason to celebrate music as a way of supporting our well being. You can find the 2021 playlist on YouTube and on Spotify  there’s the Top 10 list and more to help review the year.

The Top 10 list

We’ve spent the last two months listening to some of the best that 2021 had to offer – it was rich and varied, and definitely worthy of someone’s attention. After some deliberation, here are the 10 albums we’d recommend you check out.

  • Arlo Parks – Collapsed in Sunbeams
  • Big Red Machine – How long do you think it’s gonna last?
  • Low – Hey What
  • Mdou Moctar – Afrique Victime
  • Superwolves – Superwolves
  • Lucy Dacus – Home Video
  • Coral – Coral Island
  • John Smith – Fray
  • Sturgill Simpson – Cuttin’ Grass Volume 2
  • St. Vincent – Daddy’s Home

More details on these wonderful records

  • Arlo Parks – Collapsed in Sunbeams – another so called ‘voice of a generation’ has delivered an album that has so much maturity and warmth. Framing the music – ‘playing Arlo Parks on Spotify and my wife asked me to send her the link – she loves soulful music and I guess this one checks that box and more’.
  • Big Red Machine – ‘How long do you think it’s gonna last?’ – recent Taylor Swift collaborators, Aaron Dessner and Justin Vernon, are back with their 2nd collaboration. It feels closer to last year’s Taylor Swift albums than their first record. We loved that album, and this one’s got better and better with more listens.
  • Low – ‘Hey What’ – a perennial favorite band in this part of the world. They have been together for 20+ years and their sound keeps evolving. Less melody on this record, bit more distortion, but they still manage to sound listenable yet original. If you don’t enjoy the distortion, John Smith may be your artist.
  • Mdou Moctar – Afrique Victime – frequently on my Bandcamp feed through the pandemic. Mdou and his fellow musicians are from Niger and they play this driving, guitar led sound that’s really easy to tap your feet to. There’s something really pure about their sound and it draws you in, if you’ll let it. Comparisons with Van Halen and others (in some write ups) don’t do justice to these original musicians.
  • Superwolves – Superwolves – collaboration between Bonnie Prince Billy and Matt Sweeney. Mdou Moctar plays some great guitar too. If you don’t know much about Bonnie Prince Billy, he has an amazing back catalogue, and according to no less than Rick Rubin, this is up there with all of that work. My favorite album before I heard some of the others!
  • Lucy Dacus – Home Video – There’s a lot of layers to this one. The acoustic confessional songs are there, some great harmonies and then the powerful guitar/synth driven moments – found myself singing ‘Triple Dog Dare’ (which has elements of all those things) long after the record player had stopped turning.
  • The Coral – Coral Island – 25 years after their self-titled breakthrough album (in the UK at least), they came back with this concept album that is packed full of great pop songs – influences may include Britpop but the 60s west coast vibe makes it sound just great. Check out ‘Mist on the River’, it’s a wonderful example. We assume the River Mersey is that river, but we don’t know for sure.
  • John Smith – Fray – discovered John Smith on a streamed English folk festival early in the pandemic. Uncomplicated acoustic music with catchy choruses and occasional beautiful harmonies – ‘Hold On’ is just a perfect example. He deserves a wider audience.
  • Sturgill Simpson – Cuttin’ Grass Volume 2 –if you saw the Ken Burns documentary on Country Music, you might appreciate an album paying homage to many of the legendary artists (the great Jimmie Rogers to name one) featured there. It feels closer to bluegrass than any modern country that we get to hear. The songs seem so beautifully crafted. Bonus points for having an Indie record store only release.
  • St. Vincent – Daddy’s Home – didn’t really enjoy this on the initial listen.  Our friend David told us he loved the album, so we kept on and discovered something special. While there’s an occasional Bowie vibe (‘Scary Monsters’?) some nods to Nina Simone, Joni Mitchell and Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ along the way (‘The Melting of the Sun’) throughout you are drawn in by the great guitar sound and the soulful voices. 

More things to listen to

So much more music deserves a mention – some artists I have referenced in previous years, and in some cases I am still playing these records to better appreciate how good these records are:

  • Robert Plant/Alisson Kraus – Raise the Roof
  • John Grant – Boy from Michigan
  • Leon Bridges – Gold Diggers Sound
  • Laura Mvula – Pink Noise
  • Julien Baker- Little Oblivions
  • Andy Shauf – Wilds
  • Wild Pink – A billion little lights
  • Rosali – No Medium
  • Silk Sonic – An Evening with Silk Sonic
  • Snail Mail – Valentine
  • Kasey Musgraves – star-crossed
  • War on Drugs – I don’t live here anymore
  • Nick Cave/Warren Ellis – Carnage
  • Brandi Carlile – In These Silent Days
  • Sault – Nine (if you can find it – it was deleted from streaming services 99 days after its release).

Reissues 2021

So many reissues in 2021, and they seem to get more attention than the new material. Tempted not to name anyone, but there are some are really, really special works that we’ve enjoyed:

  • Laura Nyro – American Dreamer – could be the widest disparity between really amazing music and commercial success any artist experienced in the 60s and 70s. This 8 album set is from that period. While in recent years we’ve been collecting the originals for $5 and less in record stores, the music feels so much more valuable – try out ‘Stoney End’ surely as good a pop song as anyone ever written. 
  • Beatles ‘Get Back’ documentary and Let it Be reissues. For any Beatles fan the documentary gave a fabulous insight into how the band worked together. The music in its various forms tells us once and for all that Let It Be was a great Beatles album, and the version released in 1970 did not do it justice. It’s obviously garnered a lot of attention – our feeling is it may be justified.
  • George Harrison – All Things Must Pass – another Beatle remaster (not the first version of this record) – it contains a lot of interesting recordings on the expanded boxed set, what we found interesting was how much better the subtle remixes made the original record sound. A great album and the just got to sound even better. Would not have been out of place in the Beatles discography.
  • Joni Mitchell – The Reprise albums (1968-71) – taking the opportunity to talk up Joni Mitchell (whose originals generally cost a lot more than Laura Nyro’s). ‘Blue’ was 50 years old in 2021, it is an amazing album, much has been written about how groundbreaking it was, but even now it seems fresh and listenable. And there’s 3 more great albums in this pack!

Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry

In August 2021 we lost legendary reggae artist and producer Lee Perry. His fingerprint is on much of how reggae developed. Highly recommended and by way of celebration, here are 3 albums of his to introduce his work if you haven’t heard it:

  • Eastwood Rides Again (1970)
  • Roast Fish Collie Weed and Corn Bread (1978) 
  • Rainford (2019) – featured on our 2019 recommended list.

And on the subject of great reggae, here’s a Spotify playlist with some of our favorite reggae from the last 50 years.

Other lists

Mojo usually has an interesting list to review and here it is.

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