Now that I’ve got 2020’s sounds out of the way, time for a post about 2021’s (so far).
The year began with a catch-up on 2020 releases I’d missed, which was how I found Badly Drawn Boy’s Banana Skin Shoes—my favourite BDB album since Born in the UK. I also enjoyed Haim’s Women in Music Pt. III, another highlight of end-of-year best-ofs, and the two Sault albums of the year, Untitled (Rise) and Untitled (Black Is), which captured the political tension of it. Don’t shoot, guns down.
In February, a Metafilter thread about the Swedish composer Wilhelm Stenhammar got me searching for lesser known symphonies, which led me to Kalinnikov’s first, Berwald’s third, and others by Dukas, Barber, and Sgambati. Never ’eard of ’em, apart from Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” and Dukas’ “Sorceror’s Apprentice” for Mice.
I posted here about my Judas Priest binge in April, but other than that haven’t been doing much retro listening in 2021, with the honourable exception of some excellent new-to-me tunes from Tom Ewing’s pop polls on Twitter, such as Chrisma’s “Black Silk Stocking” and Billy Ocean’s “Red Light Spells Danger” from 1977, Santigold’s “L.E.S Artistes” from 2008, Grace Jones’s “Warm Leatherette” from (indirectly) 1980, 23 Skidoo’s “Coup” from four-letter words, and a bunch from his poll of short songs: Ketty Lester’s “River of Salt” from 1962, Liam Lynch’s “United States of Whatever” from 2003, Illuminati Hotties’ “Freequent Letdown” from 2020, and Full Tac’s and Lil Mariko’s “Where’s My Juul??” from 2019, which has to be enjoyed in video form for maximum short-and-sweet effect.
Otherwise, it’s been a case of keeping up with new albums. The best have been Wolf Alice’s masterly third album Blue Weekend, Kings of Convenience’s excellent comeback Peace or Love, Olivia Rodrigo’s exhilarating teen-pop debut SOUR, Billie Eilish’s eagerly-awaited Happier Than Ever (a bit too subdued in places, but with some great moments), and my surprise of the summer, the Killers’ Pressure Machine, which is some sort of classic: echoes of Springsteen, the Waterboys, Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs, and their previous best work, woven through an autobiographical portrait of lead singer Brandon Flowers’s formative years in the American midwest.
But my favourite music of 2021 has come from much closer to home. During lockdown my talented teenage son has turned himself into a bedroom producer, using Ableton and his skills on percussion, bass guitar and keyboard to explore the many moods of electronic music. Last Christmas he compiled his 2020 tracks into an album, which immediately became my album of the year. Then in January he got me to help him finish a few tracks—purely in an advisory capacity, because I can’t play anything myself, but I was able to say what sounded good and suggest some additions and possible directions here and there. That led to a three-month project of recording a whole concept album, which I’ve listened to ten times more than anything else this year. But he wasn’t satisfied with it, and moved on to new tracks. Some of these he’s now been releasing to the world, so check out Wiljae at Bandcamp, SoundCloud and Spotify: “Finality”, “Participation Award” and “Auto” are good starting points.