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10 Records of 2021

Considering that this blog has started exactly 2 years ago with a list based on the best albums of the ending year, this kind of list is definitely impossible to miss here.

There is a lot of good music released this year that deserves some words, I tried to keep it more various possible and hope to inspire someone to discover some new tunes.

At the end there is also an “additional records” section like i did the previous year, if this was not enough. Enjoy!

release date: April 23, 2021

Arooj Aftab “Vulture Prince”

Third album of the Brooklyn based Pakistani songwriter and the one that gave her the biggest recognition around musical circles.

This record is one of the fresher things that came out this year with a unique atmosphere made of exotic vibes, emotional singing and beautiful songwriting; indeed this album is made with different ingredients such as minimal jazz sections, Sufi music, atmospheric pop and evocative eastern folk parts.

Arooj’s voice is also very expressive, tender and beautiful, evoking introspective poems sang in pakistani (with the exception of Last Night, with words by Persian poet Rumi, but translated in English).

Mohabbat is probably the most known track from the record, and for sure one of the most impressive moments of Vulture Prince, able to provide a real magic atmosphere drawed from a remote peaceful paradise located somewhere in Eastern Asia and far from everything chaotic.  The whole album is absolutely unmissable: from the beuatiful serenity of Baghon Main to the melancholic string sections of Diya Hai.

Music from another world.

LANTLOS - Wildhund

Lantlôs “Wildhund”

Longtime comeback from German multi instrumentalist Markus Siegenhort with his main project. 

For people not familiar with this monicker, Lantlôs have been developing a very original formula through the years, adding album to album some new elements to keep Inspiration alive and offering always big quality tunes. This new Wildhund follows the direction explored on the previous Melting Sun released 7 years before it; there’s a lot of heavy alternative rock clearly inspired by Deftones and Hum, but with such a unique vibe made of dream pop/sheogaze atmospheres, altern rock vocal solution and very delightful post-hardcore/math rock inspired moments.

Siegenhort is an excellent songwriter and this record is another proof, especially because it is the first with more “classic lenghty songs” instead of the somehow “progressive structures” used in the previous records. 

Perfect blend of heavy rock and beautiful dreamy soundscapes, absolutely recommended.

Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders & The London Symphony Orchestra – Promises  (2021, Blue Marbled, Vinyl) - Discogs

Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders & London Symphonic Orchestra “Promises”

Putting more musician’s efforts and inspirations together has always been an interesting way to explore different directions and avoid to do something already done. Well, this is one of the cases when simply reading the names involved you can already be sure is gonna be epic.

This is with no doubt one of the higlights of 2021 and an album that is probably going to survive through the years as an incredible masterpiece.

Floating Points is a british electronic music producer with a great talent for soundscapes and evocative ambient music, while Pharoah Sanders is a giant of jazz; a saxophonist active since the 60’s, author of several masterpieces like Pharoah (1976) and Journey to the One (1980) and collaborations with legends such as John Coltrane, Sun Ra and John Zorn.

This record is like a neverending dream, perfect and intense, permeated by a fantastic nocturn atmosphere that is gonna blow the listener’s mind through ambient visions, blissful electric piano and harp moments enriched by the incredible expression of Pharoah Sander’s sax. 

Last but not least everything is accompanied by London Symphonic Orchestra, that gives the album and absolutely epic and cinematic vibe (listen to the explosion on the sixth movement and tell me if this is not the album of the year). Amazing.

Jaubi: Nafs at Peace Album Review | Pitchfork

Jaubi “Nafs at Peace”

Yes, Pakistan again, and this time with a more obscure record, but still a very impressive jewel.

Jaubi is an ensemble from Lahore and this is their first full-length album. The music is composed by a unique formula which is a mix of modal jazz, classic indian music, raga, eastern folk and some instrumental old school hip-hop reference.

Every music piece is based around a main theme with a strong dose on improvisation developing on it; which makes this record 100% jazz. There’s a massive use of flutes, sax and piano as lead instruments as well traditional indian sarangi. Backing sections includes amospheric layhers, spiritual chants, tabla as well as enthralling drum patterns and guitar/bass lines.

This is a fantastic journey to faraway lands made of sounds from different parts of the world using both typical eastern and western musical solutions. Excellent.

Stereogum's tweet - "Godspeed You! Black Emperor's new album 'G_d's Pee AT  STATE'S END!' is out today. It's the legendary post-rock collective's first  new music in four years, and it rules. Stream

Goodspeed You! Black Emperor “G_D’s Pee AT STATE’S END”

It’s been 4 years from the release of Luciferian Towers and tons of things in the world have happen since then, first of all Covid pandemic, that has completely changed everything around us and has put in heavy crisis every government.

So there’s probably no better historical period for GY!BE’s anarchist and anti-state poetry like this critic and uncertain situation, that really seems to be the state’s end the album is about.

No Godspeed trademark is missing here: there’s their typical military rock progressions on the first gigantic 20 minutes track, which is par se divided in sub-sections, and also some apocalyptic drone and minimalist moments made of interferences, disturbed signals and radio voices.

The typical magic melancholy of the canadian ensemble is also still incredibly evocative as always, crafting magnificent sections on the beautiful Fire at Static Valley and the ginormous anti-state hymn Government Came; cathartic, theatrical and moving pieces of amazing music.

It’s incredible how the band have never lost a gram of inspiration through the years, and how their poetic and strong message has always remained intact and present to current times. Here to finish, a sentence of the band regarding the album:

this record is about all of us waiting for the end.
all current forms of governance are failed.
this record is about all of us waiting for the beginning,
and is informed by the following demands=
empty the prisons
take power from the police and give it to the neighbourhoods that they terrorise.
end the forever wars and all other forms of imperialism.
tax the rich until they’re impoverished.

much love to all the other lost and lovely ones,
these are death-times and our side has to win.
we’ll see you on the road once the numbers fall.

Dijon: Absolutely Album Review | Pitchfork

Dijon “Absolutely”

Debut album of singer/producer from Los Angeles Dijon Duenas, better known as just Dijon. 

This is another definitive highlight of 2021, a record that came out with a strong aesthetical counterpart that gives a lot of strength and originality to the whole package. This choice is mostly marked out by the fact that there is a “film version” of the whole album, where Dijon plays a live version of the songs off the record with a numerous band of friends in a fictional house with instruments and beers everywhere that instill the same feeling of an inspiring and pleasant jamming night with friends.

On a musical side I personally even prefer the “film version” which is rawest, but in certain passages even more expressive, especially regarding the vocals that in some points (Many Times, Big Mike’s) are completely driven by inner emotions and guitar tones that have a very beautiful vintage sound on every song.

However also the studio version have a strong live feeling and it sounds incredibly good giving a real sense of musicianship; there are even talking murmurs hearable in the background and amp’s hiss. 

As already said guitars have a fantastic rock blues tone, with acid and mesmerizing drive distortions, drums are also massive and good to hear, giving a raw feeling that embraces the whole sound field; but instrumentally there are a lot of great developments with solo parts played by piano, overdrive guitar and slide guitar, with also some excellent quiet moments (God in Wilson, Rodeo Clown). Anyhow the album also offers some traditionally produced tracks such as The Dress, an excellent R&B ballad with 80’s recalls.

Regarding vocals and lyrics of course everything is sustained by them; Dijon has a great ability of singing and sharing emotions, with his voice that can be pretty rough, but also tender and introspective in other parts. Definitely Recommended. 

VOLCANIC BIRD ENEMY AND THE VOICED CONCERN | LIL UGLY MANE

Lil Ugly Mane “Volcanic Bird Enemy and the Voiced Concern”

In a pretty unexpected and appreciated way, Travis Miller is back with a new full-length album as Lil Ugly Mane, a record that sounds very different than his previous works under the main monicker, which is also a weird choice considering how many aliases and related projects Miller has started through the years.

Indeed there is no mark left from his aggressive southern rap style, and this new effort takes very different directions such as a strong hypnagogic pop vibe alongside children music with some little jazz and rock influences here and there. 

Also the singing is very captivating and simple in the same time with no rapping at all. Some parts are very catchy, like the weird acid pop of Benadryl Submarine with its enthralling guitar arpeggio or the jazz-y nursery rhyme of Cold in Here.

The use of spoken words, TV-like samples and jingles is massive and it works really well on building a sort of dreamlike dimension made of child memories opposed to adult awareness. 

The instrumental work is very various, it goes from electronic to jazz and rock as well; I would mention the weird alternative rock of songs like Discard or Porcelain Slightly or the abstract pop jazz of Beach Harness as some of the best moments.

This record has been released only digitally on Lil Ugly Mane’s Bandcamp, this is probably not his weirdest release, since Miller has always been great at creating very personal and original music works, but it definitely sounds like nothing else around, and it offers a really great and enjoyable music trip to the listener. 

Album Review: black midi, 'Cavalcade' - Our Culture

Black Midi “Cavalcade”

With no doubt one of the most acclaimed and well reviewed albums of the year; the latest Black Midi’s release is a great work of music, an impressive non-linear and eccentric musical journey. Compared to the previous Schlagenheim the album has a less jamming/improvised approach and the English band has stated this even before the first single John L has been released; Indeed it is even perceptible by listening just to this one, with all its weird tempo changes and structures that sound like a post-punk version of Magma or Comus and its super catchy and captivating main theme.

However the general approach is based on massive experimentation, a very cohesive sound and production and the use of many solo instruments such as electric piano, sax and strings. Cavalcade is able to be convincing when it comes to energic math rock moments (Chondromalacia Patella, Slow) and also when it’s about doing something more tender (Marlene Dietrich, Ascending Forth). I would mention this as a perfect meeting between refined progressive and explosive punk attitude.

BBNG (BadBadNotGood) - Talk Memory Black Vinyl Edition - Vinyl LP - 2021 -  UK - Original | HHV

Badbadnotgood “Talk Memory”

Another record impossible to forget when it comes to list the best of the year. The new album of BBNG is still cinematic and breathtaking maintaining the unique impressive approach on soundscapes of the canadian jazz trio. The first track entitled Signal from the Noise opens the album with a magnificent dark and cinematic atmosphere, with the contribution of Floating Points on production, it is a gigantic 10 minutes musical piece that works as a ticket to outer space. There are tons of incredible moments, that gives to the album a very strong personality and no repetition at all, offering a very fluid listen.

The film-like orchestrations of Love Proceeding and City of Mirrors are completely mind blowing, as well as the progressive explosions of Beside April that offers some of the best rock influenced moments of the album, but also the beautiful ambient/fusion hybrid of Unfolding (Momentum 73) (With Laraaji’s collaboration) and the impressive post-bop of Timid, Intimidating are magnificent pieces of music.

Nala Sinephro - Space 1.8. Bleep.

Nala Sinephro “Space 1.8”

With 8 different movements based on free jazz improvisation and ambient sensitivity, the debut album of this talented London based belgan-carribean artist is absolutely incredible.

The journey offered by the album is mesmerizing, switching between dark and calm meditative introspection to very experimental modular synth leaded electronic fields (Space 3, Space 5), including a lot of perfect jazz sections with expressive drum patterns, nocturnal piano parts and distinctive sax leads (such as Space 2, Space 4 and Space 6).

During the trip Nala Sinephiro is accompanied by a numerous ensemble of great musicians, while she mostly plays synthesizer and harp. The conclusive track (Space 8) is a monolithic 17 minutes work of art; calm, evocative, mysterious and beautiful, with ambient magic similiar to giants like Laraaji or Hiroshi Yoshimura and tender jazz shades here and there. 

Porter Robinson - Nurture - Amazon.com Music

Porter Robinson “Nurture”

Originally announced to be released on September 2020 and later pushed back due to Covid-19, this is the second effort by American electronic music producer Porter Robinson. 

While moving mostly across dance pop fields there is a strong research of emotional tunes, mostly expressed through soundtrack-like piano parts and addictive vocal lines. Robinson is no secret fan of j-pop music and some elements are clearly hearable on many songs, alongside some dream pop/hyperpop vibes that recalls Kero Kero Bonito (collaborators on the song Musician), Charli XCX or No Rome.

Nurture is a really nice example of emotional electro pop made of dancing beats, tender singing with frequent high-pitch and a lot of mind blowing choruses hard to get away of your head; the result is both chilling and moving, definitely recommended to be enjoyed during a summertime sunset.

Additional recommendations:

PinkPantheress “To Hell With It”

Deafheaven “Infinite Granite”

Space Afrika “Honest Labour”

Black Country, New Road “For the First Time”

Wolf Alice “Blue Weekend”

Musk Ox “Inheritance”

Kayo Dot “Moss Grew on the Swords and Plowshares Alike”

Darkside “Spiral”

Low “Hey What”

Clark “Playground in a Lake”

LIghtning Bug “A Color of the Sky”

Marisa Anderson & William Tyler “Lost Future”

Portico Quartet “Monument”

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Album Lists

10 Great Records of 2020

2020 has been a hard year with no doubt at all; alongside the millions of things related to Covid-19 that forced us to change our way of living, music has been hit as well.

Tons of tours and festival has been erased or postponed and we don’t see any band playing live since a very long time, but fortunately many albums has been released (actually more than expected due to a forced quarantine), and we can still enjoy listening to some great new music.

This list is intended to gather a few recommended records released in 2020 in no particular order with no limits of genre or way of distribution.

At the end of the article you’ll also find a list with some additional records i enjoyed as well.

Liturgy - Origin of the Alimonies

Liturgy “Origin of the Alimonies”

Last year the brooklyn based experimental metal band surprised us with a great comeback after 4 years with a new album called H.A.Q.Q., an excellent record made with Liturgy’s classic formula.

After just over a year Hunter-Hunt Hendrix’s band is already out with a new incredible masterpiece, bringing to another level its sound and enriching it with avant-garde and classical music elements with an operatic structure divided in movements played with a band composed by 12 members.

Needless to say this album is a really unique experience, providing undoubtely the most well crafted hybridation with classical music that black metal has ever seen; it seems like Liturgy has finally acheived the sound Hunter Hunt-Hendrix has been looking for years, which reminded me a sort of metal version of Godspeed You! Black Emperor.

This of course dosen’t mean the previous works were inferior, since we’re talking about a band that has always evolved its sound on every album in an unique way, but simply that they have been able to express exactly the real nature of the project in the best way possible; this achievement has also happened when Hunt-Hendrix came out as a transgender woman, opening herself in a really touching way through an Instagram post.

In conclusion i think we could surely affirm that Liturgy is one of the most interesting and original bands active nowadays and that Hunter Hunt-Hendrix is a true visionary genius:

if you want to start a really unusual philosophical opera journey made of modern classical music, avant-garde dissonances, black metal explosions with a few trap beats and electronic glitches don’t miss this record and the previous single Antigone in collaboration with Leya.

Recensione: Rina Sawayama - Sawayama | Uptempo Magazine

Rina Sawayama “Sawayama”

One of the best debuts this year comes by the british/japanese born singer Rina Sawayama, providing a very genuine and inspired pop record named after just her surname.

One of the things that surprises more is how much Rina Sawayama is inspired by 2000s music which may be pop, dance, rock or even nu metal. Just to take an example STFU! has some super punching nu metal inspired guitar explosion, but it later evolves into a perfect meodic pop chorus that reminds the most catchy  songs by Christina Aguilera or Mariah Carey. Her voice is also super versatile and expressive, perfectly matchable to many different contexts; Indeed on this records you’ll find explosive songs (STFU!), dance pop well-crafted tunes (Comme Des Garcons), trap inspired modern pop (Akasaka Sad) or perfect songs to sing at loud (Paradisin’, Tokyo Love Hotel), without forgetting some more touching moments with very well written lyrics (Chosen Family).

Yung Lean - Starz LP - Smekkleysa SM // BadTaste SM

Yung Lean “Starz”

Oh yeah, the most eclectic and “mystical” swedish rapper has come back with a new record after the wonderful Strangerz of 2017, and it sounds exactly as you could expect its continuation.

Sad and dreamy tunes are still the main element that mark out Yung Lean’s cloud rap, perfect to be enjoyed during an insomniac night with lights out (or even with just a green soft neon light that reminds the album cover’s colour) and total calm around.

Productions is still very impressive, especially for the massive use of hypnagogic synths, dreamy melodies, ambient-like enrichments, effected guitars and weird sounds, offering for sure some excellent cloud rap songs like Outta my Head, but seeing also Yung Lean providing some more psychedelic oriented moments like the excellent Starz with the wonderful guest partecipation of Ariel Pink or the hypnotic Dancer in the Dark.

If you’re looking for a trip made of sad vibes and magic sound layers this is probably your thing.

HOW I'M FEELING NOW - MP3 | Charli XCX US

Charli XCX “How i’m Feeling Now”

A forced global quarantine in the digital era may have for sure a positive effect on artists or creative minds in general, having finally enough time to make order within their ideas.

Looks like Charli XCX’s last album How i’m Finally Now is one of the best products realized during quarantine and her best release so far.

The british futuristic popstar probably dosen’t need any particular presentation and on this record she has found an even more distinctive and solid identity for her sound, switching intelligently across future synth pop, very catchy autotuned vocal melodies, easy listening solutions, digital glitches and trap-like beats.

Now image yourself listening to Claws, Party 4 u or Visions a decade ago; doesn’t this music sounds exactly as your idea of “pop from the future”? How you’re feeling now?

SVALBARD, When I Die Will I Get Better? - The New Noise

Svalbard “When I Die, Will I Get Better?”

One of the most interesting hardcore/post-metal hybrid bands is finally back with its third album; i’m talking about Svalbard from Bristol, UK and their new record When I Die, Will I Get Better? (Looks like pessimistic titles are a trademark for every full-length), which is definitely a true gem among the heavy music releases of the year.

Compared to the previous works here the band pushes its art over a more lighter and dreamy sound, which reminds a bit of last Alcest album Spiritual Instinct, but of course in a more hardcore way.

That’s always incredible how much the band is able to create very emotional and intense soundscapes mixing heartbreaking melodies with political and melancholic lyrics; alongside the strong post-rock oriented guitar work (that sounds more chrystalline than ever) a special mention goes to Serena Cherry’s clean vocals that found a lot of space on this new album (check What Was She Wearing or Pearlescent) offering incredibly cathartic moments.

Recensione: Emma Ruth Rundle & Thou - May Our Chambers Be Full

Emma Ruth Rundle & Thou “May Our Chambers Be Full”

Putting togheter two of the most inspired and talented acts around today is for sure a certain way to get something qualititatively relevant, but due to the different nature of both Thou and Emma Ruth’s music i was super curious about what expecting from this album, even if i already knew it would have been great before even listening to it.

Moreover this collaboration is not a completely new thing since they already played a set together at the mighty Roadburn Festival in Holland back in 2019, but on the studio side this is the first work that sees the partecipation of both (and it’s not even the last, since there’s a bonus EP on the way).

Based on Thou standards this may be considered less aggressive and more melodic and not so different in comparison with Emma Ruth’s latest releases, even if it’s for sure super heavy with insanely low guitar tuning, which is strangely in perfect harmony with Emma’s delicate voice and softer moments.

In conclusion the overall result is porbably the perfect mixture of both styles, alternating more dreamy post-rock moments with devasting sludge metal shots with insane high pitched screams. A special mention goes to guitar compositions able to switch from more elegant arpeggios to low tune heavy chords and typically metal harmosied twists.

Dead Kids, R.I.P. City | Soft Kill

Soft Kill “Dead Kids R.I.P. City”

Undoubtely one of the most notable bands alongside Drab Majesty if we talk about post-punk revival. With several albums in their discography that explores various different aspects of gothic rock universe (which makes the band’s sound pretty variegated), this record offers some more lighter vibes and it’s definitely highly recommended.

A strong sense of nostalgia permeats the atmospheres in this album, it’s not desperate or necessarily dark, but it gives the same emotion that you feel when you remember of past moments and periods that will never come back.

Lyrics are indeed narrating facts happened in the past and memories related to them; every track is a different characters that tells a different story related to Portland, Oregon.

This is a romantic journey made of vitrious guitars melting into liquid melodies, some choruses and main riffs are impossible to forget (who’s still singing the melodies in Floodgate’s intro or the instrumental chorus of Crimey after a listen?) and the experience is pretty distinctive, confirming Soft Kill as one of the most interesting bands active nowadays.

ROPE SECT - The Great Flood

Rope Sect “The Great Flood”

After a pretty good record made in 2017 and entitled Personae Ingratae this obscure project has come back this year with a new album that pushes their sound in an even more convincing and mature direction.

The style of Rope Sect is a sort of post-punk/gothic rock with absolutely distinctive and catchy riffs and some very sinister moments that on this record sees a pretty strong metal contamination hearable on many guitar harmonisation, a few double kick/blast beats drums accelerations and even a little harsh scream cameo on the song Diluvian Darkness.

The haunting vocal work is very interesting and well made, also the always reverbered guitars are giving to the atmospheres a strong and captivating personality, which is absolutely irresistible for all those who likes enthralling rock with dark vibes.

Even if this is pretty original, if we should have to found some comparisons the more immediate would be probably Fields of the Nephilim or even bands like Christian Death or Sisters of Mercy with a strong Agalloch-like melancholic flavour.

Highly recommended.

clipping.: Visions of Bodies Being Burned Album Review | Pitchfork

clipping. “Visions of Bodies Being Burned”

Alongside Run The Jewels mastodontic fourth album (yeah it’s not on this list, but it’s absolutely worth to check), this is definitely one of the highest moments of the year related to hip-hop.

Certainly clipping. and their claustrophobic industrial rap are not new for all lovers of alternative music and this album provides essentially a confirm of their greatness.

This record is the conceptual continuation of the previous There Existed and Addiction to Blood and with its abrasive electronic obsessive beats, dark soundscapes, glitch-y noises and aggressive rapping punchlines provides a unique minimal and avantgardistic weird rap opera.

Another worth to mention point of this records are certainly some collaborations with many great artists able to let the album taking different shapes in a really cohesive way. For example Los Angeles female rap duo Cam & China brings a killer flow to the song ’96 Neve Campbell, as well as Ho99o9 do on Looking Like Meat with their punk rap aggression; But also the weird contributions of Joe Lester from Intronaut on bass (Check the Lock), guitarist Jeff Parker (Eaten Alive) and experimental artists Greg Stuart (on the short interlude Invocation) and Sickness (Body For The Pile) give a very original intention to the album.

It’s also impossible to forget the ending song Secret Piece which is the reinterpretation of a Yoko Ono avant-garde track featuring almost all the guests building a very solid instrumental wall made of loops, atmospheric layers and even saxophone, cello, guitar and double bass.

Plantgazer | Show Me a Dinosaur

Show Me a Dinosaur “Plantgazer”

In the abscence of a Deafheaven album this year (even if there’s a cool live album called 10 Years Gone) this has been for sure the best replacement, since this russian project is one of the closest things to them i’ve heard, but fortunately without sounding like a clone band.

Plantgazer is a fantastic album, full of heartbreaking moments and really emotional vibes putting what remains of the blackgaze micro genre into an ocean made of the best of modern post-rock with some strong This Will Destroy You and Explosions in the Sky references.

It’s impossible to resist to the wonderful sparkly melodies of Marsh that arrive directly to your heart or to the enthralling bass driven section of the opening Sunflower.

If you’re looking for touching music while contemplating a winter sunrise, this quartet from Saint Petersburg with such a likable name has provided you the perfect soundtrack; You can liquefy your soul and letting it drown across chrystalline arpeggios, furious blast beats, suffering screams, loud Mono-like guitar tremolo sections and Sunbather inspired crescendos.

Unmissable!

Other Honorable Mentions:

Touché Amoré “Lament”

Run The Jewels “RT4”

Jesu “Terminus”

Ichiko Aoba “Windswept Adan”

Kataayra “Toda História pela Frene ”

Anna Von Hausswolf “All Thoughts Fly”

Phoebe Bridgers “Punisher”

Shame “Uniform”

Adrianne Lenker “Songs”

Ulver “Flowers of Evil”

Tired Lion “Breakfast for Pathetics”

Shedfromthebody “A Dead and Aimless Hum”