Well here we are at the end of another year. It’s that time when all us music geeks make our annual “best of” lists. I both love and hate making these things, because it’s fun to try and rank the year’s releases and share what your favorites were, but it can also be quite a daunting task to get them into an order you’re happy with, and try to make a few tough calls as to what stays and what gets cut. There’s also the inevitable post list regret when you begin to rethink the whole thing. Then there’s also the issue of the latecomers, albums that were released late in the year that that you either weren’t able to get to or to really dig into in order to make them real contenders. Also, there’s usually one or two records that you didn’t even know existed that you will pick up in the coming months that absolutely would have been on the list if only you had known. Fellow geeks will understand.
So I’m just going to go with what makes sense to me today, and try to avoid editing the list as much as possible. As usual, live albums and compilations are ineligible, as are e.p.’s. Before I get into the main list, I’d like to talk about a few honorable mentions, and some stuff that fell through the cracks.
HONORABLE MENTIONS CATEGORY:
A few records I liked a lot but didn’t quite make the top ten (in no particular order):
The Moon And Stars: Prescriptions For Dreamers by Valerie June
This is a record about feelings-deep longings, regrets, and weary hopefulness that is nearly unclassifiable musically, but it contains elements of Soul, Americana and New Age that blends into its own thing. Not what I expected from this artist, and not an easy listen but a worthwhile one.
Nowhere Generation by Rise Agaist
I’m not usually a fan on commercial punk but I enjoy this one.
At Home With by Southern Culture On The Skids
Just a really good alternative country record. Not as raucous as past endeavors perhaps, but a good time from start to finish.
Catspaw by Matthew Sweet
I have long been a fan of Matthew Sweet’s work. Power pop based, but a little bit deeper and more personal than most in that genre. This record is not likeley to make a ton of new fans, but worth checking out for the curious, or for those who haven’t heard one of his records in a long time. Good stuff.
When You Found Me by Lucero
Lucero has been one of my favorite alt. country bands since the mid 2000s. Their work is a little bit hit or miss, with them either knocking it out of the park or turning in a near miss. This one is the latter, but still compelling enough to be worth repeated listens. It has grown on me considerably.
THE “NOT IN ON A TECHNICALITY” CATEGORY:
Every once in a while something comes out that I have no clue what to do with when it comes to the year end list. This year there are two such records. They are 9th & Walnut by Descendents, and Welcome 2 America by Prince. I will explain.
Prince, obviously, has been deceased for years so he certainly isn’t doing any new music. Yet, this was a full , completed record scheduled for release but dropped at the last minute. The songs are all previously unreleased, so while it’s not new new, it is new. Sort of.
Similarly, in the case of the Descendents record, this album is full of songs the original line up of the band never recorded for an album that never came out. Yet, they got back together during the pandemic and recorded brand new versions of the songs and released it this year. So is it new? I mean, kinda, but no.
See? It’s all confusing. So these two discs are not eligible for the top ten list because I don’t know if they count as new or not. Which is a pity, because they would both definitely be on.
Now that that’s over with, let’s go.
DAVE’S TOP 10 ALBUMS OF 2021
10. You Get It All by Hayes Carll
Hayes Carll is one of the most underappreciated songwriters in the Americana world today. He is able to make you laugh and then turn around and break your heart which is exactly what Country music should do. With his wit, drawl, and classic outlaw tendencies he is one of our best. Check this out if you haven’t heard it. Quality stuff.
9. In Another World by Cheap Trick
Cheap Trick are still making records every bit as ferocious, catchy, and varied as their classic ’70’s output, and better than most of their ’80’s stuff. Okay, so it’s not high art, and it ain’t exactly poetry but it’s quality rock and roll from a classic band and that’s good enough for me.
8. 11 Past The Hour by Imelda May
After the stylistic change she underwent in 2017, I was unsure where Imelda May’s new work would land. Would she stay all grown up, soulful, and chill, or go back to her retro rockabilly roots? The answer is really neither. She has made an authentic record that has both mature pop and anthemic rock that is another step towards finding her true self as an artist. It is a journey that we listeners are lucky to be a part of.
7. Mammoth WVH by Mammoth WVH
Wolfgang Van Halen (mostly) steps out from his father’s shadow to make a very entertaining rock record. Apart from a little guest guitar work from his pop, Wolf plays all instruments himself and writes all the tracks. It sounds fresh, yet in line with many records from the ’90s and early 2000s. A solid record which shows much promise for the future.
6. I Don’t Live Here Anymore by The War On Drugs
The War On Drugs is a one man project that creates a soundscape with every record. I compare listening to TWOD with driving into an immense vista. It is both warm and comforting, but with a sense of adventure and endless possibilities. While the songs are tighter and more concise than on previous releases, that feeling is still very much intact.
5. Senjutsu by Iron Maiden
Maybe it’s just me but it seems as though Iron Maiden have transcended the heavy metal genre and become an entity all their own. While the sound is still there, the band don’t quite play with the same explosive intensity anymore, instead choosing to live in the world between dark and light, coloring their music with mood and imagination more so than power alone. This is a double disc that could have easily been trimmed into one, even without losing any songs, but it is a strong one. Admittedly I was underwhelmed when I first heard it, but it has grown on me with each listen to the point that I believe it to be among their finest work from the past 20 years.
4. Electro Melodier by Son Volt
Back to the Americana well with this one for what may be Son Volt’s best record since their original 1990s era output. It’s that good. There’s not a bad track to be had, proving that Jay Farrar deserves the credit he receives for helping start the Alternative Country movement and is still one of the best in the game.
3. Buffalo Nichols by Buffalo Nichols
Buffalo Nichols is a new blues/roots artist that takes us back to the delta in a thoroughly modern way. According to an interview I read with him recently, his goal with this record was to bring “black stories” back into the sanitized world of the blues. With his direct, visceral approach he is certainly doing that, and by brining the music back to a raw form, pushing its boundaries. One hopes this record could be a teaching moment for many, but while a lot of us will embrace the message, this will probably anger those whom it could best teach. Still, it is a powerful statement and a great record.
2. WAR by The Alarm
This one is interesting, as it was inspired by both the pandemic, and the Jan. 6th attacks on the U.S. Capitol, and released in real time. It was written, recorded, and released in just 50 days, coming out on Feb. 25th. The Alarm are a legendary Welsh rock band so this is all funneled through a U.K. perspective, and is truly the most “of its time” record to come out in years. Whether the lyrics will still resonate the same way in a few years, or even be accurate with the passage of time remains to be seen. However, it is overflowing with both heart and energy. It is also probably the closest you’ll get to a Clash record these days, at least in spirit.
1. Medicine At Midnight by Foo Fighters
This is a very divisive record among rock fans, which automatically makes it interesting. Yes, it’s a bit of a departure from what we are used to from the Foos, but it’s clearly a Dave Grohl project from minute one. Once you realize that Grohl is making his “Bowie” record it all makes sense and that gives it a really cool vibe. It may not be the artsiest record I have heard this year or even the most important. It is, however, the record I have listened to the most this year, and my enjoyment of it has only increased with each spin. That fact alone, even if by default, makes it the #1 for me this year.
So there you have it. As mentioned. there were a few records I didn’t get to this year, and there are a few more I enjoyed listening to, but I think this is a pretty good representation of the year in new music for me.
Here’s to a new year with new possibilities, and some great new music too. Happy new year, everyone! See you soon.