The slow, painstaking trawl through end of year lists to unearth all the incredible music I inevitably missed this year has begun, and so far this is top of the pile in terms of unforgivable oversights, especially as Hollie makes up one half of Mint Julep who not only feature on TPW’s own list, but also provided a wonderful One Track Mind. Better late than never, though, and the fact that I’ve only just discovered her stunning solo ambient album The Quiet Drift just means I have many months of hammering it relentlessly to look forward to.
“It’s Whack History Month. Any month I’m dropping back-to-back, it’s Whack History Month, so that’s what we’re doing,” So says Tierra Whack, who today released her third EP in as many weeks, following up previous drops Rap? and Pop? with R&B? – a three track which concludes with this spellbindingly sorrowful gem directly out of the Drake manual of reflective morosity.
“My goal is always to help and to heal people with singing” says Lady Wray of her latest single, Thank You. “Part of that is to try and bring back real music, real singing, so people can feel something again.” Worked on me! Thank You is without question her most powerful, moving single since Piece Of Me.
The only thing that slightly bothers me about this is that Thank You is already the fifth single to be released from her new album Piece Of Me due out in January. It’s kinda sad that the way the industry is currently beholden to Spotify et al., we will have been exposed to nearly half the album before it lands. Albums are a sacred format – at least to me – and I’d much rather listen to one in its entirety not knowing what’s coming next, rather than already being overly familiar with it. Sufjan’s Beginners Mind suffered from exactly this problem earlier this year: six singles had been released ahead of the album – pretty much all the strongest records on there – which led to a slightly underwhelming album release day.
But then that’s just me. I expect lots of people will just enjoy this without fretting about it so much.
The Berlin-based artist talks in depth about the enigmatic beauty of Townes Van Zandt’s Highway Kind
The premise of One Track Mind is pretty simple: I ask artists to pick one track that means a lot to them – either something they’ve discovered recently, something that’s been with them for years, or one that reminds them of a specific time in their life or career – and tell me what makes it so special to them. I get to talk to the artists I love, and they get to talk about the artists they love. Love all round!
John Moods is the musical solo exploration of Jonathan Jarzyna from the Berlin based pop band Fenster. Released back in August of this year, I came to his 2021 album So Sweet So Nice a little late, but it’s one of my favourite releases of the year. Tackling questions about mortality in an often light-hearted and delicate fashion, it at times evokes the hazy melodies of 80s acts like Steeley Dan, at others diving off into Paul Simon-adjacent territory, but all the while maintaining its own strong, distinctive identity. It’s a beautiful, beguiling body of work, and I one I highly recommend if you’re not already familiar with his music.
For his One Track Mind selection, John describes a song that seems to him to channel something from beyond this earthly plane.
A theme of: Very Chilled Music Indeed seems to be emerging on the blog this week, which perhaps reflects my mindset of trying to wind down to such an extend that by Christmas I may need assistance simply getting out a chair. And it doesn’t come much more relaxed that this gorgeously atmospheric slice of ambient from Belfast-based composer, multi-instrumentalist and producer Neil Foster. Created using analog arpeggiators, live vocals, delayed, layered pianos and his own field recordings, it is, in a word, lush.
Four decades and dozens of albums into his career, Ludovico Einaudi doesn’t seem to be slowing down, which, if you like gentle, emotionally -charged classical piano, can only be a good thing. For me Einaudi is like a gateway drug I never graduate from into “proper” (read: old, probably Austrian) classical, as this kind of classical musical intimidates me, so I remain stuck on this less challenging but arguably just as beautiful fare. Atoms is gentle, sad (obviously) and foreshadows his new album Underwater due for release in January.
Gabriels’ Jacob Lusk has never sounded better than on Stranger, one of the four tracks on the LA-based soul group’s second EP Bloodline, which ebbs and flows between sombre reflection and full-on, string-led, orchestral bombast. An extremely assured next step on an increasingly impressive path: widespread recognition is surely on the horizon.
Shout out to BRLY DRSSD for leaving it late in the year to drop one of the most unashamedly positive tracks of 2021. Teaming up with Sri Lankan artist Chanty Thushara and reminiscent of Crazy P at their bubbliest, Diamonds is “for all the ladies who sometimes don’t think they are strong or worth listening to.” A warm, breezy dance/pop cut, it’s hard not to be won over by its open-hearted optimism.
The time has come for me to spend a frankly absurd amount of time agonising about not only which albums are worthy of TWP’s acclaim, but exactly where in the table of acclaim said albums should lie. It’s been a hand-wringingly tense experience, but we are finally here. Thank fuck for that.
Of course, the enormous elephant in the room is Traumprinz, or DJ Irini to be more specific. A couple of months back the anonymous producer posted a 3 hour set comprising brand new material on the Planet Uterus Soundcloud. Not quite a mix, definitely not a full album, it doesn’t really qualify for this list. And literally as I was writing this up today they posted another four separate sets of music that so far is amongst the most extraordinary stuff I’ve heard in this or any other year. Sufficed to say, if there had been anything approaching a proper ‘album’ from all these various drops, it would have almost certainly topped this list.
Regardless, once again it’s been yet another incredible year for music, and more specifically the album: a year of highs and lows; of huge artists underdelivering; of previously unknown artists completely blowing me away. Music continues to give me more joy than pretty much anything in my life, and I am continually grateful for its constant presence.
Here, then, are TPW’s picks for the very best albums of 2021.
Do you like traditional 16th century carols? Are you an Alan Partridge aficionado? If so, listen to this – it’ll blow your socks off. Me Lost Me has made a real treat for your ears with her take on Gaudete which is available to download for the duration of December and will then sink back into the dark depths from whence it came forever.
The song is pay what you feel – all proceeds will go to Rainbow Home North East, a small locally based charity whose fundamental aim is to reduce the significant difficulties and hardship experienced by LGBT+ asylum seekers in the North East of England.
Lean into its reverb-heavy horror-folk vibes and rejoice.