Into The Unknown
2021 was significantly worse than 2020, and I’ve no doubt that next year will be even worse. All hope has gone.
But at least it was another good year for music.
Let’s explore what I think to be the 20 best albums of the year, together.
Los Tabanos Experience – Bioluminiscence
Dance to the chaos of creation. If you can’t dance, lurch and sway. The stirring of life in the murky primordial soup. Anthems for the world if it were run by caterpillars and woodland spirits, rather than people, cats and crows.
Favourite Track – Perpetual Exposure
Sunburned Hand of the Man – Vulgarisms
I listened to about 130 Sunburned Hand of the Man albums this year, and I’ve still barely scratched the surface. They just can’t stop releasing albums. They put out seven albums in 2021 alone. One of them, Pick a Day to Die, they proclaimed to be their first proper album in a decade. Which is a baffling thing to say, given their absurdly high output.
Pick a Day to Die was good, but I prefered Vulgarisms. It’s the fruit of their initial jams after emerging from l*ckd*wn. They’re sad, tired, yet full of life and potential. The slurred vocals about mothers and babies are a little disturbing. But beyond that, this feels like a weary raised glass to all that we’ve lost.
Favourite Track – Pour Another One Out For Hamstring Jones
d’Eon – Rhododendron
I heard that d’Eon once tried to find God in the internet. That’s the last place I’d look for anything holy.
I’m not sure how his quest went. But judging by the sound of his latest album, he’s since journeyed to a pixelated realm inhabited by cyber fairies and digital gnomes.
It sounds weird there. But at least it’s not here.
Favourite Track – Rhododendron pt. II
Green Lung – Black Harvest
They invited us to let the devil in. We did, and now he’s made himself comfortable. He’s sat in your favourite chair, put his feet up, opened a bottle of blood-red beer, and stuck some Deep Purple on at inadmissible volumes.
Welcome to the party, pal. Let me just get you a coaster.
Favourite Track – Graveyard Sun
fishpaste – in space the rats just dissolve
Nope, sorry. I haven’t the foggiest idea what’s going on here. It may have something to do with a “new” genre of music called hex – essentially, demented ramblings from the terminally online, defined by garbled samples, low fidelity, and an uneasy feeling that the thing you’re listening to shouldn’t be. Cursed music, in other words.
But this is a lot more tuneful and compelling than much of the hex I’ve heard, a lot of which seems to take pride in being genuinely painful to listen to. It’s utter madness, yes. But most everyone’s mad here, these days.
Favourite Track – the pigs become spheres
Ryley Walker and Kikagaku Moyo – Deep Fried Grandeur
Two gentle giants of modern psych collaborate on a couple of long, languid, slow-burning space jams. There’s the ever-present threat of chaos you always get with loose and freewheeling music, yet the mood is mellow and upbeat throughout.
Favourite Track – Pour Dampness Down In The Stream
Here Lies Man – Ritual Divination
“Black Sabbath plays Afrobeat,” they said. “Sold,” I replied.
I listen to a lot of heavy psych sounds these days, but rarely are the riffs so colourful, and the rhythms so vibrant, as they are here. As nourishing as an earthy dahl consumed in a dimly-lit room with air so thick with sandalwood vapours that you can’t even see what you’re eating.
Favourite Track – I Wander
Hat Fidkin and Katya Sykes – Amanita Muscaria
They recorded a mushroom.
Or more specifically, they recorded “the bio-rhythms of electrical activity transmitted between a mature fruiting body to a young fruiting body roughly 1m apart (bio-electric impulses travelling through fungal network in the earth).” Yeah.
Nature sings to itself. Fascinating and deeply relaxing. But they missed a trick in not calling this Amanita MUSICaria.
Favourite Track – Amanita Muscaria (It’s a single 22 minute track, but this entry would look weird compared to the others if it didn’t have a “favourite track” section.)
L’Rain – Fatigue
Woozy disjointed confessionals for the small hours. Ghostly samples played at the wrong speed haunt the outer limits, and the songs swirl, soar and drift as if beholden to dream logic. Like staying up all night watching an endless stream of fuzzy YouTube music videos through bleary eyes.
Favourite Track – Two Face
Jane Weaver – Flock
They said it’s her pop album, but ladies and gentlemen, we’re still floating in space. It’s an irresistible cosmic disco of sweet melodies set to even sweeter grooves, a blast of positivitiy direct from Space Channel 5. It’s proof that you don’t have to come down to Earth to come “down to Earth”.
That last sentence made sense to me, at least.
Favourite Track – The Revolution of Super Visions
Gojira – Fortitude
There’s a certain point on this album where the sounds of the rain forest combine with the heavy drums and heady riffs to create a style of music I don’t think I’ve ever heard before: New Age Eco Metal! It’s stunning, and I listened repeatedly.
I’m a Gojira man now. Though I must apologise to the group. Usually the point I which I get into bands like this seems to coincide with the point at which their long-standing fans decide that they’re “not metal” anymore, and thus not worth listening to. Sorry, lads.
Favourite Track – Amazonia
Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio – I Told You So
Sometimes I can taste music. This stuff is profoundly delicious. A rich soulful stew – enjoy nine helpings and you’ll still want more. These feel-good grooves are potent enough to make even the dullest and dreariest of days seem full of life and possibility. Though your mileage may vary on that Careless Whisper cover.
Favourite Track – Call Your Mom
Amerigo Verardi – Un Sogni di Maila
A cosmic Latin masterpiece. Most of these songs are, at their core, simple yet heartfelt acoustic wonders. Yet none of them are content to simply be. They often dissolve into a haze of found sounds and exotic instruments, emerging from the lurid pink mist as glowing, enlightened rainbow children. And in the middle of all this, Amerigo somehow finds room for an energising run of SFA-style psychedelic powerpop anthems.
Sometimes I make notes when listening to albums for the first time. For this one I just wrote one word: INCREDIBLE.
Favourite Track – Everest
Cha Wa – My People
Louisiana funk – the words roll off the tongue and leave a spicy aftertaste you could savour for hours. Yep, more delicious southern-fried soul, this time with a life-affirming carnival atmosphere.
All hope has gone. But when I listen to music like this, life still feels like it’s worth living.
Favourite Track – Bow Down
Broon – Cosmic Ceilidh
I’ve attended a few ceilidhs, and each time I’ve been struck by how much the whimsical vamps remind me of my favourite jam bands.
Broon knows what I’m talking about. Here we have a cosmic ceilidh, which is like a regular ceilidh except it’s, you know. In space.
But not all of these songs are fit for revelry. The slower, more wistful numbers have an almost Penguin Cafe poignancy to them.
Favourite Track – Seeds Beneath the Snow
The Go! Team – Get Up Sequences Part One
There are no bad Go! Team songs. They just don’t have it in them to make bad music. And the only bad thing I can say of their latest album is that it peaks too soon – immediately, in fact.
The opening song sounds like Sesame Street AND My Bloody Valentine AND a blue-sky-Sega beach party AND a mid-century Alpine adventure AT THE SAME TIME.
The rest of the album is great, but that opening track is one of the most breathtaking songs of this millennium – or any millennium, really.
Favourite Track – Let The Seasons Work
ONUKA – KOLIR
Something wicked from Ukraine. They call it “an organic mix of Electronica, Modern Pop and Ukrainian Folk”. To me it sounds like The Knife at their most pagan crossed with Björk at her most “all-neon-like”.
At its best it’s a fiery revelry attended by ecstatic witches and unfettered treemen – otherworldly in the truest sense of the word.
Favourite Track – ZENIT (Seriously, I’ve not been the same since I heard this one.)
Beautify Junkyards – Cosmorama
Curiouser and curiouser. Something spectral and surreal to soundtrack your week of wonders, sir.
It’s indispensable in itself, but this one also happened to send me tumbling down a verdant rabbit hole of magickal and mysterious exotica. I will always treasure the springboards into new obsessions. There really is a whole world out there.
Favourite Track – Reverie
Vangelis – Juno to Jupiter
Vangelis’s tribute to NASA’s mission to Jupiter sounds at once awe-struck and awesome. Romanian soprano Angela Gheorghiu provides the celestial voice of Juno, and at times we hear the obviously overwhelmingly excited voices of mission control as they oversee their latest miraculous escapade.
This album seems particularly vital in a world where science – with a capital S and a definite article – is used to stifle debate and justify creeping authoritarianism. This is a reminder that science can be a force for good. Here science meets myth to create something that feels truly timeless – heavenly yet human.
Favourite Track – Juno’s Accomplishments
Arooj Aftab – Vulture Prince
This is one of those albums that only appears about once every five years: So delicate that to listen feels like intruding; So rare that you don’t want to listen too much, for fear of breaking its spell; And so precious you’re hesitant to share it, in fear that others won’t appreciate its beauty.
It’s devotional Sufi poetry set to music so tender it’s barely there. Yet to try and describe this sound is futile. If the words existed to describe this music, then we wouldn’t need this music to begin with.
Favourite Track – Inayaat
Bask In The Hopeless Gloom With Me
I’ve made a playlist of all of these albums. All except the mushroom music, as that’s not on Spotify:
Merry Christmas, everyone. I’d wish you a happy new year too, but… you know.