I’ve acquired a love-hate relationship with “best of” lists. It just feels there’s a tendency to get them out of the way as soon as possible, carefully pleasing a few PR people, and hanging on to the choices, good or bad, that the first couple of reviewers anointed a couple of days (weeks? months? years?) before you.
At the same time, it feels odd not to make a list, of any size or extent, to document the releases of any given year. In a best-case scenario, it’ll get acts new fans. In the worse case scenario, it’s just a snapshot of whatever the reviewer thought was good. Expiration dates may vary.
On that mindset, “Best of” lists do have an expiration date, no doubt about that. A decade ago, I’d rush to post mine around the Christmas break. I had plenty of time to review and listen to new music, even if the PhD took most of my time. Things changed, with my chosen career (maths/science teaching) grabbing the majority of my time. The rest of my free time I’m in a daze, barely even managing to concentrate, let alone listen to something new. I seek something familiar, as it’s a haven from the stressful ambient of the school system. A 95 kilometer round trip daily commute does that to you.
And then we got a pandemic, which might be on the closing stage. Might. And we also have a terrible situation over at Europe, the source of many geopolitical conflicts since the early XX century. And it seems all countries managed to elect absolute cockwaffles as presidents/dictator wannabes.
Is it really a time to be writing about music? Probably yes, as it is still a sort of palliative, unheard or unread, but a a palliative none the less.
I had this list ready back in January, this post itself, according to WordPress, has been edited 67 times. I’ve done this intro ten or so times. I’m still not happy with it, but I’ve got this weird vice that if I don’t finish something, everything else has to wait. I’ve got a couple of cool promos I want to write about, but this list, this fucking, stupid, self-centered, extremely morose, self-indulgent list, sits in the front, blocking all ideas, waiting to be released.
So here it goes. I hope you truly enjoy this selection of albums. I wish I had left it as it was, all 35 of them, but I honestly think you don’t have the time to read that many words, so let’s keep it to a nice school-grade friendly number.
These are not in order, by the way, and I hope the genre hopping doesn’t give you any whiplash.
Self-esteem – Prioritise Pleasure
“One day I would love to tell you // How the best night of your life // Was the absolute worst of mine”
Pop always gets the short end of the stick. Often shrugged off as “disposable”, it’s a genre that many thumb their nose against. Prioritise Pleasure unabashedly raises a pop flag full of grandiose choruses and acerbic lyrics. The brutality of Rebecca Lucy Taylor’s narrative work can only be matched by the drier-than-gin humour. If I had to choose one album to represent 2021, this is the one, and that’s why it’s at the very top of the list.
Suggested tracks: I do this all the time, Prioritise Pleasure, How can I help you?
Low – Hey What
Primordial screams, cordial ululating vocals, fierce glitchy loops, and brutal matter of fact lyrics. Low captures the zeitgeist in the shattering Hey What, an album I’ve already reviewed for another two publications. If 2020 found us hurting and at loss, 2021 has us dealing with the fallout of a terrible year. The period of healing might not be over, but we will get there, with Mimi and Alan’s vocals acting as a guiding light through darkened liminal spaces, such as the ones between pain and relief, anguish and happiness, loss and acceptance.
Suggested tracks: Days like these, White Horses.
The War on Drugs – I don’t live here anymore
A common backhanded compliment thrown towards this album is that it’s “safe”. And maybe in these uncertain times, we need safety to save us from a daily grind that gets worse everyday. Adam Granduciel keeps conjuring unwritten 80s pop hits, deftly weaving another album of great songs. Those Lucius interventions are perfection.
Suggested tracks: Living Proof, I don’t live here anymore.
Pearl Charles – Magic Mirror
An impressive album by Pearl Charles. Clearly influenced by the elegant chamber pop of the 70s, Magic Mirror clearly knows every nook and cranny of the genre. The arrangements intertwine perfectly with Pearl Charles’ ethereal vocals. However, don’t think this is just a throwback, there is a fresh air of breathe in every track.
Suggested tracks: Slipping Away, Take your time, Magic Mirror.
Amusement Parks on Fire – An Archaea
When you are young, it’s easy to be unfocused. Misdirected energy can sometimes ruminate into atmospheric cacophonies of anger and misplaced irony. An Archaea finds Michael Feerick and company well versed into their own sound, pushing away from the louder regions of space rock, focusing into a new sound that still feels familiar, but brings a new face to their music.
Suggested tracks: Aught can wait, Breakers.
The Black Keys – Delta Kream
I think it’s been more than a decade since I’ve actually enjoyed an album by The Black Keys. It’s telling that it’s an album that pays tribute to great musicians like R.L. Burnside what gets me back into them. Honestly, it was the overproduced, almost cynical approach they took what steered me away. Not much of that in Delta Kream, which takes out all the faff and leaves an intimate tribute to the hill country blues.
Suggested tracks: Going down south, Poor boy a long way from home.
Actual Wolf – Hometown Hero
A real labour of love from everyone at Actual Wolf’s house of buds. Infinitely delayed until the time was right, Hometown Hero slides away from the aesthetically pleasing, breezy Faded Days into a boots on the ground approach, layered back, with a squadron of horns to add. Rumours of more music from Actual Wolf hits the right spot, almost as good as a certain taco stand in Oakland…
Suggested Tracks: Birthday Party, Sinaloa Stroll, A change of mind.
Echodrone – Resurgence
I’ve always favoured the strong shoegaze enery emanating from all Echodrone albums. Whether an EP dedicated to a side character from an 80s classic, to an impressive aural experiment where no song is shorter than ten minutes, Resurgence keeps it short and sweet, without going back to the well too many times. You can feel the experiences gained through their now decade spanning career, and the inclusion of a cover of a lesser known -but fantastic- Billy Joel cover makes it a joy for a sunnier time of day.
Suggested tracks: Grain of Salt, Midnight frost.
Concepción Huerta & José Orozco Mora – Memorias Suspendidas
How do you describe the unknown? Oppressive synth swells overwhelm the senses in this spectacular trip through the jennels formed by axons and dendrites. A forever journey through infinite waves of wondrous joy and urgent desperation. Memorias suspendidas is an imaginary conversation lost in time, disintegrating as the memories of our loved ones who’ve died fade after we’re gone.
Suggested tracks: Memorias suspendidas, Pulsos
Fuzzy Lights – Burials
Tremendous psychedelic anthems over spill through Burials hefty runtime. Thick atmospheres simmer until exploding, liberating a thousand rays of a strange, violet light whose aura remains until a new cycle starts.
Suggested tracks: Maiden’s calls, Sirens.
And that’s all I’ve got for you. Hope your 2022 is great. Thank you for reading. I know I’m not constant as I was with this website. That’s life.
Sam J. Valdes López