Who doesn’t love a list? Not me. I’m not someone who doesn’t love a list. By no means.
Top Ten Albums of new music released in 2021
Albums of new material from a range of different artists can sometimes lack quality songs. Not every artist is willing to contribute great compositions to a collaboration where the credit gets shared. That’s not the case here. The quality of the writing by Anais Mitchell, Robin Pecknold (of Fleet Foxes), Taylor Swift, Ilsey and Naeem Juwan is astonishing. The album maintains interest through a variety of different musical styles whilst preserving a common musicality. There’s not a dull moment on the album.
Unlike anything else I’ve heard this year, Lost Girls is the name given to a unique collaboration between Norwegian musicians Jenny Hval and Havard Volden. There are six songs which sound improvised but never overstay their welcome. The fifteen minute “Love, Lovers” builds to a climax in which Jenny Hval’s singing climaxes in a breathtaking wordless inner monologue.
I didn’t imagine how Adam Granduciel could better “A Deeper Understanding” but the four year wait has been worth it. As with every album on this list, there are no wasted moments, no throwaway songs. The overwhelming sound is one of sensual beauty punctuated by startling moments of clarity, such as the slashing guitar on “Victim”. A triumph.
The sixth album from this Montreal band is a 75 minute treat from start to finish. The nine songs are organised into four chapters: “Near Death”, “Death”, “After Death” and “Life”. Despite the sombre melancholia of the lyrics, the music is luxurious with echoes of The Beach Boys, This Mortal Coil, Talk Talk and The Cocteau Twins. The final ten minutes of keyboard drones allows us to transition from the fantasy world of The Besnard Lakes back to our own reality.
It’s folk, Jim, but not as we know it. Ten songs that showcase the remarkable voice of Karine Polwart with a stunning accompaniment by pianist Dave Milligan. That’s all – voice and piano for 42 minutes of perfect beauty. “The Parting Glass” dates from the 17th century, “Craigie Hill” is from the time of Queen Victoria and there are many more contemporary compositions including two by Karine Polwart herself.
The Scottish duo’s first album for 16 years was dark, intense, literate and very funny. Every song makes me laugh out loud as well as describing a bleak life, full of mistakes and regret.
The great Jackson Browne never disappoints. “Downhill From Everywhere” is his first album for seven years. Like all of his albums, this features great singing, great lyrics, great sentiments, great playing and, well, it’s great.
It’s been another excellent year for female singers who I used to dismiss as pop fodder. Olivia Rodrigo is 18 years old and writes songs about heartbreak, betrayal, rejection and regret. If that sounds unlistenable, she also writes catchy melodies and injects self-deprecating humour into all of her songs.
Possibly influenced by the only concert I went to this year, this double album of 17 songs is consistently entertaining. I’m still struggling with the concept of “heartland” rock but I guess this is it. Jesse Malin’s attitude, voice, playing and ability to write an outstanding chorus combine to produce a work that rivals the euphonious rock music produced by Bruce Springsteen, Ryan Adams and Drive-By Truckers.
Although Paul McCartney didn’t release an album of new material this year, Aaron Lee Tasjan’s highly eclectic and entertaining album was more than adequate compensation. The arrangements are consistently inventive and the plethora of tuneful melodies, harmonies and the offbeat nature of the lyrics provide consistent entertainment.