2021 - a few of my favourite things
Hello there, it is I, your humble bard. Please spare me a moment to wax somewhat lyrical about some of the things I’ve loved this year, as is my want.
Top 20 Albums of 2021:
Much like 2020, it seems that the pandemic is no inhibitor of great music. My shortlist of potential albums of the year brushed up against the number fifty this year, which is frankly ridiculous. As hard as it was to narrow down to just twenty, that’s exactly what I’ve done, because I’m nice like that. Please note, I am not arguing that these are the BEST albums of the year, simply my most favouritest. But of course, my opinion is worth the most around here (on my blog), so they are the best. SUCK ON THAT!
1. Mastodon - Hushed and Grim. I genuinely never thought I’d be putting a Mastodon album anywhere near my end of year lists ever again, such was my disdain for their new directions after Crack The Skye, but then they go and release this. An hour and a half long, and the perfect distillation of their many faces, this never feels anything less than vital and urgent.
2. Turnstile - GLOW ON. A great big warm hug of an album by a bunch of American hardcore kids who look so achingly cool that one wouldn’t be surprised to find out they were grown in a GAP warehouse, this takes everything that’s cool about hardcore and marries it to shimmering pop melodies. Their record release gig on youtube is so lovely that it genuinely made me tear up. But then again, I once cried at the trailer for the film Armageddon, so there’s that. I can’t wait to stand in a field and dance like a grinning loon to all these songs in July. DON’T YOU FUCK THIS UP FOR ME, COVID.
3. Jeff Rosenstock - SKA DREAM. I’ve always quite liked Jeff Rosenstock’s brand of too cool for school punk, but it wasn’t until he released this, an entirely ska reworking of his previous album, No Dream, that he hooked me in, and I ended up falling entirely in love with everything he’s done. Music is magic, and this is the catchiest magic you’ll hear this year.
4. Black Sheep Wall - Songs for the Enamel Queen. Okay, enough nice stuff, this is utterly grim, in the best possible way. Howling, swirling, hate-fuelled bleak metal that batters you about the head with so many riffs that you’ll be begging for mercy, then asking them to do it again. You sicko.
5. The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die - Illusory Walls. Just a genuinely gorgeous melding of whatever-wave emo and college rock, and the two climactic tracks, each weighing in over fifteen minutes, as a staggering finale.
6. Amigo the Devil - Born Against. Murder folk ballads with a wicked sense of humour and a glorious voice. I just can't stop listening to this album.
7. Sugar Horse - The Live Long After. A band who seem to play all the genres, all at the same time, and somehow manage to keep all the plates spinning right up to the moment they drop them on your head. Post metal, doom, grind, hardcore, shoegaze, screamo, and everything in between. Properly dizzying, brutal as fuck, and epic as a Robert Jordan series.
8. Amenra - De Doorn. Oh looks, it’s Amenra being utterly miserable and brilliant, yet again. The most consistently brilliant band in bleak. If any album is the perfect soundtrack to being a sack of skin suit of meat and offal in these plague times, it's this one.
9. Genghis Tron - Dream Weapon. If I was expecting Genghis Tron’s return after over a decade to have tempered their digital grindcore tendencies, I would have been bang on the money. But I'm not that prescient, as evidenced by the fact I dipped my toe into the waters of buying bitcoin at what historians will one day recognise at the absolute summit of its value. To be honest, I wasn't even expecting The Tron to come back at all, but I'm bloody glad they did. This is shimmering digital sad pop of the highest order, and about the biggest about turn you can imagine, even though it’s somehow still undeniably Tron.
10. Every Time I Die - Radical. You might know what you’re getting with an ETiD album - breakneck hardcore with a decided party groove all shot through with brilliant pop hooks from one of the best vocalists in hardcore, but it doesn’t make the reliability of their incredibly high standards any less remarkable.
11. Converge: Blood Moon. I mean, it’s Converge meets Cave In meets Chelsea Wolfe. It was always going to work, wasn’t it?
12. King Buffalo - The Burden of Restlessness. I could have picked either album released by these blissed-out stoner progsters, but I got to live with this one a bit longer, so we’ll go with that. A perfect antidote to the gloomy grimness of not just the majority of 2021, but a lot of the bands I've listed above. Also, it's got big fuzzy riffs. Who doesn't like big fuzzy riffs?
13. Idles - Crawler. I kind of gave up on Idles on their last album, thinking them a one-trick pony whose trick wasn’t that great, after all, but this is a stonking return to form, albeit one they needed to change form in order to achieve. Sleazy goth pop is now draped over their wiry punk frame, and it really works.
14. MØL - Diorama. Black metal with a shoegaze twist is hardly a new idea, but I’m not sure it’s ever been done to such a high standard as this.
15. The Hyena Kill - A Disconnect. It’s about time Britain produced a proper rock band capable of filling stadiums with anything like the regularity we used to in the 90s, and on this evidence we may well have found one, if we can get enough people to sit up and notice.
16. Emma Ruth Rundle - Engine of Hell. With a stripped back sound from her usual layered haunting brilliance, this is even more haunting and brilliant. Also, if we were including EP's in this list her work with Thou would have definitely featured. Such a phenomenal talent.
17. DVNE - Etemen Ænka. Just the best prog metal band in the world right now, in my humble opinion. Bewilderingly complex, heavier than the weight on Tony Blair's conscience, and with massive soaring melodies. Proper good, innit.
18. Thrice - Horizons / East. There is no way Thrice should be making albums this good this far into their career, but they are. Not only that, they're showing that it is possible to mature and mellow without losing one iota of your brilliance. I can’t wait to stand in a field and shout all the words to Scavengers back at them in a non-threatening way in July. DON’T YOU FUCK THIS UP FOR ME, COVID.
19. Teethgrynder - Hostages. Very weird album this. But I do like it a lot. It's a whole album, but with an extra album bolted onto it in bonus tracks, and it veers from ambient drone to haunting post rock to MASSIVE RIFFS and big epic vocals.
20. Deafheaven - Infinite Granite. Black metal shoegazers drop the black metal and are all the better for it, in my humble opinion.
And there you have it! But wait, there’s more!
I’ve watched a grand total of 168 films this year, which is not bad going. And 107 of those were films watched for the first time. I even watched enough new releases to be able to cobble together a top ten films of the year.
Top 10 films of 2021.
1. Blood Red Sky. A film almost entirely designed to sit in my wheelhouse, a proper new vampire classic.
2. Tick, tick, Boom. A gloriously uplifting movie, with an outstanding performance by Andrew Garfield.
3. Don’t Look Up. I really don’t care how on-the-nose this is as a satire. It kind of feels like on-the-nose is what’s needed for this particular moment in time. And I thought it was brilliant, funny, and utterly terrifying.
4. The Fear Street Trilogy - yes, I know this is three films, you want to fight me? I've got a big beard, you know. Good old school slasher films with some great performances, and some of the worst accent work in the final chapter ever committed to film. That they don’t derail the whole thing shows the quality of the films.
5. Tina - this documentary about Tina Turner was absolutely incredible, heartwarming and inspiring and horrifying in equal measure. An icon, in the truest sense of the word.
6. Black Widow. After all the Endgame stuff, it felt nice for Marvel to go back to basics with this. Funny, thrilling, and rattles along at enough of a pace that you don’t see the holes. Oh, and putting Scarlet Johansson, Florence Pugh, AND Rachel Weisz on the same screen? Be still my heart.
7. The Green Knight. Watched this as a Christmas film, which it absolutely is NOT, and I still don’t know what to make of it, except that it was absolutely brilliant, and the best looking film I’ve seen all year. Weirdly ethereal, like a fever dream in places, and with a fantastic performance by Dev Patel, a man seemingly incapable of giving a bad one.
8. Spider Men - Too many spidermens. This really shouldn’t have worked, really, but it did. A film that you can’t really review without spoiling things, so I'll just say that I really enjoyed it.
9. Encanto - A great big lovely blanket of a film.
10. What Drives Us - In which Dave Growl is A VERY NICE MAN and talks to loads of people about being in a band. A really nice documentary.
Books of the year.
I’ll be honest, I’ve not actually read many books this year that came out this year, so I’ll just say that I LOVED Wanderers, by Chuck Wendig, and that if you want some brilliant short stories, you should definitely check out Dark Missives by Dan Howarth, because it’s brilliant.
THAT WAS 2021!