The Null Device

Records of 2021

And, with the end of the second plague year, here is the annual list of noteworthy records of the year:

With honourable mentions going to: Adult Oriented Pop, 06:15 AM (a band from Stockholm, doing maximalist psychedelic-pop grooves, somewhere between M83, Tame Impala and Mild High Club, with references to Crowleyan occultism), Astral Brain, The Bewildered Mind (another Swedish band, sounding somewhere between The Advisory Circle and a more summery Death And Vanilla), Caligula, Broken (in the 90s, Caligula were a sort of Australian answer to Curve, combining shoegaze and madchester stylings for a domestic audience; their comeback, Broken, in its maximalist bombast, is the record Australia will win Eurovision 2022 with if they have the good sense to enter it), CHAI, Wink (the Japanese indie band's new one is glossy yet slightly lo-fi, combining crunchy breakbeats, chiptune arpeggios and the smoothness of city-pop), Clairo, Sling (dreamy and sometimes baroque folk-pop with a touch of Laurel Canyon about it), Dummy, Mandatory Enjoyment (choppy guitars, motorik beats and transistor organs, a bit like early Stereolab in places), Dry Cleaning, New Long Leg (spoken-word over angular new-wave rock like a London Life Without Buildings), Haiku Salut, The Hill, The Light, The Ghost (the Haikus' latest record is a more meditative, subtle affair, filled with space; mostly driven by piano, strings and tuned percussion, though with some of the glitchy electronics of their prior works), Heligoland, This Quiet Fire (the Melbourne-via-Paris band's latest record is their richest yet, at once substantial and ethereal; you can just about tell it's produced by Robin Guthrie, though that doesn't overwhelm Karen's voice or the band's musical direction), Alice Hubble, Hexentanzplatz (Hubble swaps nuns for witches and builds on her previous work; the album and sounds much as its name suggests; kosmische synthpop with an European disco sensibility), Japanese Breakfast, Jubilee (subtle electronic pop; surely you've heard it), Hollie Kenniff, The Quiet Drift (dreampop doesn't come any dreamier than this; an enveloping blend of strings, vocals and reverb-drenched electronics that makes the Cocteau Twins sound like Black Sabbath by comparison), HTRK, Rhinestones (HTRK explore country/americana, sort of), Kero Kero Bonito, Civilization II (technically a 3-track EP, but also the second half of an album, whose more ominous first half came out last year; two upbeat J-pop-styled tracks and seven minutes of euphoric house), The KVB, Unity (Angular new-wave electropop the odd choppy guitar and architectonic/modernistic affectations, with titles like "Sunrise Over Concrete" and "Structural Index" and lyrics like "modular factory living"; influences would be Kraftwerk, OMD, New Order and Le Corbusier), Loney Dear, A Lantern And A Bell (Loney Dear & co. finally recorded their great new songs, though in a sparse, stripped-down form; I wrote more about it here), Makthaverskan, För Allting (the Gothenburg indie combo are back; lush guitar-based indiepop with elements of shoegaze), Massage, Still Life (classic indiepop with a touch of shoegaze, with echoes of The Field Mice/Mary Chain/1000 Violins/Milk Teddy), Meemo Comma, Neon Genesis: Soul Into Matter² (mostly ambient digital electronica/IDM/musique concrète inspired by the eponymous anime series and Jewish mysticism), Mr Twin Sister, Al Mundo Azul (a sleek, swaggering slice of dancefloor euphoria with echoes of 80s Miami from the Long Island indie band, better known for their hazy reverie), Monnone Alone, Stay Foggy (Marky & co.'s latest; catchy pop songs with a mildly psychedelic fug of fuzz), Nation Of Language, A Way Forward (coruscating, motorik yet romantic electronica proudly wearing its new-wave synthpop influences on its sleeve), Noda Yûki,Soda Sickness (a five-track EP of playful yet groovy instrumental electronica, recorded by the composer whilst confined, for some reason, to his Osaka home last year, unpretentiously titled things like Broken Refrigerator and Boy And Cat), Geoffrey O'Connor, For As Long As I Can Remember (the Melbourne sophistipop artist's latest is a collection of duets, with the likes of Laura Jean, Nicole Thibault and Sui Zhen; it's also a pandemic record, of course, so emotionally much of it is wistfully reminiscent of better times; expect smooth sounds and the odd arch lyric), Hannah Peel, Fir Wave (lush, luminous, evocative analogue electronic ambience, with samples from Delia Derbyshire's radiophonic compositions), Still Corners, The Last Exit (if Twin Peaks was set in the US Southwest, this is what the soundtrack would sound like), Swansea Sound, Live At The Rum Puncheon (a C86-era supergroup, with Hue from The Pooh Sticks, Ian from Death In Vegas and Amelia and Rob from everywhere else, bring indiepop with tongue firmly in cheek; features the hit* single ”I Sold My Soul On eBay”), Tape Waves, Bright (lush, fuzz-driven dreampop, an equal distance from Galaxie 500, Yo La Tengo and Lovesliescrushing), Jane Weaver, Flock (Weaver, who had the record of 2014 here, leans fully into pop whilst maintaining her usual cosmic avant-garde sensibilities; where else would you find post-Spice sassy R&B-pop referencing Hammer horror films; the closing track, Solarised, stands out in particular).

How would I describe this year musically? Well, the rona is still raging, and people are somehow making their own adaptations. There's perhaps a lot of introspection in music and arts, as adventures in the outside world give way to those in inner space. My list of noteworthy music could well have been different had there been more gigs or festivals to attend.

As every year, there were records I only discovered after the fact, which were not eligible for this year's list. This year, perhaps my most noteworthy discovery was an artist named yeule; they're from Singapore, nonbinary, and currently (I think) based in London. The music they make is a glitchy, ethereal electropop that sounds somewhere between Björk, cuushe and Briana Marela. Anyway, their 2019 album Serotonin II was a big revelation; they have a new album coming out next year, which I look forward to.

As for the record of the year? If there were one, it would possibly be Fritz, The Smallgoods or noda yûki.

There is a Spotify playlist (of the tracks that were available there) here.

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