2021 Essential Albums

Well it’s been another pretty shit year in many ways, but at least there were gigs for a few months; and the number of excellent releases, if anything, increased as the year went on. Here are the albums that have particularly spoken to me this year… they are in no particular order, and I haven’t counted how many there are. I hope you find the new and the familiar here, and if there’s one release that you come to like as a result of this then I will consider it to be job done!


Can Live in Stuttgart 1975/ Can Live in Brighton (Mute)

Not being a particular fan of bootlegs, I have never really heard a great deal of Can as a live band… although much of their work is, of course, the result of some improvisation. So when ’Live in Stuttgart’ came out earlier this year I was absolutely knocked for six by how good it was… in a way that an album had not done to me for a long time. It is, quite simply, an absolute tour de force. As a result, when I heard that ’Live in Brighton’ was going to follow it I wasn’t sure that ‘Stuttgart’ could have the same impact. I need not have worried because it is every bit as good with Brighton ’Vier’ possibly being my favourite moment across the 12 sides of vinyl. What an absolute treat!

Innanför Boxen by Kungens Män (Adansonia/ Cardinal Fuzz/ Kungens Ljud & Bild)

I think that this box set taps into something that is extraordinarily Swedish which is in many ways unfathomable. I have written a number of times before about my fascination for a certain brand Swedish leftfield music, which can be exemplified with the Pårson Sound/ International Harvester/ Träd Gräs och Stenar/ Träden lineage. There is something that is very earthy about this music, it has its roots buried very deeply into the ground and flourishes because of that… it fosters an intensity which is evident throughout these five albums… but also permits a freedom and looseness which offsets and enhances that intensity somehow.

To read the full review click here

Promises by Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders & the LSO (Luaka Bop)

In a world that seems so divided this, for me, feels like a call for unity: unity of body and spirit, unity of mind and being, unity of inner and outer experiences, unity of musical genres, but also unity for humanity… unity according to age, race, creed and culture… it is a composition that takes diversity in many iterations and rolls it together in an organic and seemingly effortless manner… it is a composition which is truly collaborative, and as beautiful and thought-provoking as anything you will hear…

To read the full review click here.

Lee “Scratch” Perry’s Guide To The Universe by New Age Doom and Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry (We Are Busy Bodies)

When Canadians New Age Doom sent their album to the legend that is Lee ’Scratch’ Perry, with the thought that he might add some vocals to it, it was very much a punt… but one that hugely paid of. The result is an album that I lifted from the realm of excellent to that of potential masterpiece as a result. That it has become one of Perry’s final musical acts before his untimely death earlier this year, only adds to this importance of this work. As a collaboration it is every bit as integrated as the Floating Points/ Pharoah Sanders album above, just amazing.

Dataland by Adam Stone, Dead Sea Apes and Black Tempest (Cardinal Fuzz/ Feeding Tube)

This is an absolutely terrific album that sets the mind thinking, and does have the ability to push you over into a slough of despondency if you’re not careful. While I have broadly concentrated on Stone’s lyrics and vocals here, this is a truly collaborative effort with the Dead Sea Apes once again providing a strikingly symbiotic framework for them. This data-driven, and lockdown data-sharing, album is further enhanced however by the the electronics of Black Tempest, who adds a layer of synthesised sound to the set giving it it’s ‘sheen of data’ which deepens the relationship between the words, music and subject matter.

To read the full review, click here.

Transmission by DJINN (Rocket Recordings)

As with most music worth its salt this album needs time… time to percolate its way through your psyche… time for you to attune yourself with its spirit… time for you to create your own aural edifices around it. But when you do it pays you back many times over as you find yourself becoming more acquainted with its wiles. It is an album that, for me, has come just at the right time when I seek to travel at home, to experience something new in my own listening space… it takes me somewhere else and I am happy to let this transmission transcend my isolation.

To read the full review, click here.

The Besnard Lakes Are The Last Great Thunderstorm Warnings (Full Time Hobby)

This then, and I’m going to say it again, is an absolutely stunning album by The Besnard Lakes… a career high in my humble opinion, and one in which you can absolutely lose yourself. However this is not some directionless loss but one that is both focussed and accessible for those who want to contemplate the profound themes being considered here. It is an album that I am sure I will be playing frequently, and will become part of the cannon of albums that mean an awful lot to me.

To read the full review, click here.

Mässen by KOSMOGON (Tonbad Grammofon)

I have listened to this fifty-odd minute album many times now in the last month or so and, like the Buddha’s stream, it is something that feels different every time… yes the sounds are the same, but the way I interact with it is different… in one sense that makes it ambient… but like all great ambient music it is facilitative… it is not there to be played in the background as you travel in a lift… but rather be a companion for you as you travel through life… at the end the silence is just incredible!

To read the full review, click here.

Upupayāma by Upupayāma (Cardinal Fuzz/ Centripetal Force)

I do not think that I have ever felt a piece of music reach into my mind… into my fictional headspace… as much as ‘Upupayāma’ has… and, as a result, I feel an incredible affinity with it. Perhaps this comes from a shared love of Kikagaku Moyo and Träd Gräs och Stenar, and the sort of effect that such music can have on one… either way I feel a very personal sense of connection with these four tracks and feel they have found my every bit as much as I have found them. But I’m not ready to leave my little cabin quite yet, so I’m putting the album on again and will invite you in again soon…

To read the full review, click here.

Great North Star by Great North Star (The Acid Test Recordings)

In short this is an utter gem of a release which I will be playing over and over again… both on my walks, and in the quiet surroundings of my headphones. It is an album that hits me in the right places and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

To read the full review, click here.

Bliss Land by Hattie Cooke (Castles in Space)

I fell for this album on the first listen. I read an interview with Hattie Cooke in which she says that she feels that the set is about liminal spaces, an area in which I have always had an interest. This perhaps explains why it seems to resonate with me. It was the atmosphere of the record that hit me first, and I think that this is because of that liminality… the intersection between pop, electronica and experimentalism which raises this release above the sum of its parts. As a result it has an immediate beauty that floored me. Excellent!

Untold Futures by The Oscillation (All Time Low)

The Oscillation have released a series of consistently good albums over the last decade and a bit, but for me this is one of the absolute best. The most high tempo numbers are fast and punchy, while the more introvert moments are great points of reflection. The additional disc of the Dinked edition is more in keeping with Demian Castellanos’s solo drones, and perfectly offsets the main albums. An all round terrific package that will be hovering around my turntable for some time to come.

Dust Breathing by Møster (Hubro)

This, then, is a terrific album that is exciting and subtle in equal measure. It is the sound of four very good musicians getting together and producing something that is unique to them, it feels like it more that the sum of its not insignificant parts in this sense. It is an album that surprises you at every turn and brings something that is genuinely new to the table.

To read the full review, click here.

Pick A Day To Die by Sunburned Hand of Man (Three Lobed Recordings)

This set, then, tells the story of a band who are not only great musicians, but also not afraid to experiment and, well, just let themselves loose at any point in time. If I were forced to use one descriptor for what is available here it would probably be ‘fluid’ since I feel you get a real sense of freedom and easiness here amongst the constant changes in influences and genre. This is within a sort of ‘fuck you’ context which married together provides a wonderful listening experience which kind of hits you on all sides through blues, rock, jazz, pop, funk and dub perspectives as one style is easily folded into another.

To read the full review, click here

Energy is Forever by UKAEA (Hominid Sounds)

…this album represents the sort of Britain that I would want to live in… one where we allow freedom of expression… one that is inclusive (and the international and inclusive approach to the music here is broad and noticeable)… one that is diverse with tracks that are soft and melodic, zoned-out and chilled, and hard and heavy; with elements of dance/ rock/ noise and well and of rhythms from across the globe… there are traditional instruments/ synths/ drones/ beats/ samples, you name it, which are all melted together in a universalist crucible and are ultimately formed into something which actually stands for something… I think it is an incredible achievement and one which is clearly far beyond the sum of its parts.

To read the full review, click here.

House Music by Bell Orchestre (Erased Tapes)

Like the Floating Points/ Pharaoh Sanders album that I wrote about recently, this is a remarkable and unique piece of music that is also to be listened to in one sitting. In a world where attention spans are expected to be much shorter, it is reassuring that such aural art continues to be recorded and released because it provides an opportunity to withdraw from, and reflect upon, the world in which we live… a place which seems every less peaceful with ever more stimulus. Indeed, it seems to be no accident that some of the best music I listen to these days comes from musicians who take themselves away from such milieux and just play… and in doing just that Bell Orchestre have produced an absolute gem!

To read the full review, click here.

Earth Trip by Rose City Band (Thrill Jockey)

The third album from what I think started as a bit of a side project from Ripley Johnson (Wooden Shjips and Moon Duo). The last two, and especially ‘Summerlong’, was one that helped me through the first lockdown with its upbeat and sunny vibe. ‘Earth Trip’ is a slightly different proposition with its slower feel to it. The word that comes to mind each time I listen to it is ‘mellow’… like the other two it has that wonderfully rounded feel to it… but this one takes Johnson even further into the country and away from his other bands. A wonderful release that again, I’m sure, is going to help me through the coming months.

G_d’s Pee At State’s End by Godspeed You! Black Emperor* (Constellation)

It seems a long time since I first heard ‘Dead Flag Blues’, a track which for me typified that end of millennium vibe… a lot of water has slurried under the bridge since then and, if anything, the world seems to have moved closer to the Canadian ‘post-rockers’ worldview. Even in that context this feels like a really significant release in the collective’s oeuvre…. One that reflects the dystopian aspects of our age, without wallowing in it. But even putting that aspect aside this, musically, is a brilliant album which seems to hit me right in the soul. Just fantastic!

Origin Myths by Bobby Lee (Tompkins Square/ Natural Histories)

As a fellow resident of Sheffield I have followed Bobby Lee’s emergence with interest. What I noticed when I moved to the city a decade or so ago is how much bigger the sky seems here. It’s something about the topography of the place which just gives it a different feel… And it is this panoramic element which I find irresistible about Lee’s work, but when you get down to it, it is more than that. While you are immediately hit with the breadth of the music, it is actually the detail which seals the deal. There is a real earthiness here, a sort of naturalistic element which gives you the feeling that Bobby could just be picking his guitar in your front room.

Arrival of the New Elders by Elephant9 (Rune Grammofon)

I was late to the party with Elephant9’s previous two releases (Psychedelic Backfire I & II), so was keen to get in on the ground floor with this one. Listening in conjunction with new releases from Møster and Motorpsycho (members of whom also appear here) gives me a real sense of musicians exploring their range, and has sent me off into a glorious and extensive musical rabbit hole. What I really like about this release is its free flowing nature, both in terms of the music itself and the way it glides through the genres.

Fir Wave by Hannah Peel (My Own Pleasure)

An absolutely stunning record in which Hannah Peel takes the work of such as Delia Derbyshire and sets it in a contemporary ecological context. Despite there being no words, each piece paints a deep and descriptive picture in a sense that is both intimate and panoramic. I only came across this album through the re-release of ‘Orkney: Symphony of the Magnetic North’, but I am glad that I did because it is a similarly ethereal work of real heft… one that I feel that I am yet to full appreciate.

Live at Levitation by Kikagaku Moyo (The Reverberation Appreciation Society)

This album is taken from two live sets: the Austin Psych Fest in 2014, and the Levitation Festival in 2019. Both take you pretty far into the Kikagaku Moyo live experience. In fact when I first listened to this album this week it’s the closest I’ve felt to live music since I last went to a gig just under a year ago…. having not looked at the ‘set list’ in advance I genuinely whooped when some of the tracks started and really felt present at certain times during the set. A genuinely thrilling experience from a superb band.

To read the full review, click here.

The Age of Oddities by Rutger Hoedemaekers (130701)

Hoedemaekers really seems to dig deep to create something that feels atmospherically cold, yet emotionally charged. His use of treated female voices as a separate instrument really takes many of the tracks onto some other ineffable plane… a sort of geyser-fulled cloud of unknowing as his intense and strong feelings hit the chilled sonics to create something that is quite otherworldly. In the end, though, you really need to sit with this music to develop a relationship with it… because if you do I am sure you will!

For the full review, click here.

Eight Fragments of an Illusion by Ulrich Schnauss and Jonas Munk (Azure Vista)

What I particularly like about this album is the way that it blends the best moments of Schnauss and Monk’s work in a way that is so integrated… you really cannot hear the join between the two, something which has a gestalt effect within this zoned out and ultimately rather indulgent (in a good way) album. Sure you could play ‘spot the genre’ here and come up with a host of styles… but I suspect that, ultimately, you are going to want to play this album to revel in the musicianship while enjoying its laidback vibe.

To read the full review, click here

Fengselsfugl by Trond Kallevåg (Hubro)

The music here, for the most part deep and tender, is an absolute revelation (especially when you know the back story) in a manner that makes you want to listen to it again and again. Hope and sadness are mixed together to form a sort of fragile melancholia which is beautiful and brittle in equal measure. Like most in the Hubro catalogue it is an album like no other… both heartbreaking and engaging.

To read the full review, click here

A Low Level Love by Manni Dee (Perc Trax)

Some of the tracks on here (such as ‘London in my System’), are as heavy as you will find anywhere. But there are plenty more numbers here which a subdued and subtle, and point to the fact that Dee is by no means a one-speed DJ. Actually there is a lot of nuance and a lot of sensitivity to this set which means that you really need to settle yourself in for the duration and really give this a go. Actually it may even convince you to give techno more of a go… because this is a superb showcase for the genre.

For the full review, click here.

I’m Gonna Love You ‘Til The End Of Time by Wasted Cathedral (Cardinal Fuzz/ Centripetal Force)

Yet another excellent release from Canadian multi-instrumentalist Christopher Laramee as he continues his mainly electronic explorations through his Wasted Cathedral persona. This is a collection which never rests on one style and yet, as a listener, rest is very much what you can do when you sit down with this album. You can kinda tell that Laramee lives in the middle of the Canadian Prairie given the space that he affords to his music, and the patience with which he explores his themes. For the listener this pays of big time since listening to it provides and oasis in the epicentre of the shitstorm that is the world today…

Nocturnal Manoeuvres by John (Brace Yourself)

I went to see John live this year… I had already been amazed that there was only two of them on this record… but when that is replicated live in spades I find it incredible that just two people, called John, can make such a racket. And what a brilliant noise it is, with the duo building superbly on their already excellent previous outing, ’Out Here on the Fringes’. This is ace contemporary punk which is both visceral and direct…

Se Ci Fosse La Luce Sarebbe Bellissimo by Blak Saagan (Maple Death)

This, then, is a majestic and epic seventy five minute set which takes the listener on a real journey through epic psychological vistas and claustrophobic internal conflicts… it is an album that constantly challenges and constantly defies expectations. It is an album in which the listener can feel totally absorbed while at the same time wonder at the atmospheres that are created here… coupled with a narrative that both suggests itself and invites you to develop your own story. All in all this is a fulfilling listen which I not cannot wait to hear in its full glory on vinyl.

For the full review, click here.

Retaliation by The Chisel (La Vida Es Un Mus)

There is something about The Chisel, though, that seems to connect with me… to take me back to the punk 82/ Oi!/ hardcore scenes of yore… but also sounds new and fresh to my ears. Maybe it is the sheer energy and passion of this band which are so compelling… but they hit me really hard… and this record has hit me hard too.

To read the full review, click here.

Interim Report, March 1979 by Warrington Runcorn Development Plan (Castles in Space)

As someone who grew up near to Warrington and Runcorn, Ellesmere Port as a place is not a million miles from them both physically and culturally, it’s perhaps no wonder that this album (as well as a second release, ‘People and Industry’, finds a particular resonance with me. I like the album from a musical standpoint, with it’s subtle atmospheres which, for me, portray both beauty and melancholy… pride and frustration. Like the ’Great North Star’ album, elsewhere on this list, this is a very Northern sort of album… and one that I never tire of listening to.

Vanities by WH Lung (Melodic)

I think that ‘Vanities’ is a wonderful step forward… it is an album that is so full of life and so physically powerful that I defy anyone not to get out there and dance to it. It is very much an album of the night… of the city… of the dancefloor. It’s an album for having fun with… and feels very much reflective of the sort of evening where you find yourself flinging your arms in the air and just going for it.

To read the full review, click here.

Jams by Papir (Stickman)

Danish band Papir have always been the sort of band to release long, stretched-out tracks which feel improvised and immediate, yet they have never released an album of jams as such. This rectifies that previous omission with a series of tracks recorded in January 2020, producing what for me is one of their strongest releases… one to put on and just let it happen to you.

The Heavens by Sedibus (Cooking Vinyl)

If you were a fan of The Orb back in the 1990s, then this might just be the album for you… not particularly to engage in nostalgia, nor to just see what Alex Paterson is up to these days… rather to enjoy an album that has many of The Orb hallmarks but feels fresh and contemporary. It certainly strikes me that there is nothing about this set that is looking backwards, but an ambient experience that is as immersive and relevant as it ever was.

Nafs of Peace by Jaubi (Astigmatic)

…there is a real meeting of cultures here, and most notably the spirituality of jazz, that’s found in some of the key works from the likes of John Coltrane and Don Cherry, with the Islamic spirituality that this album is formed around. This is suggested in the title of the album, which represents the ideal stage of ego for Muslims (see here for more on the Islamic concept of ‘Nafs’)… and certainly there is a beautiful and serene balance to this record in which you are simultaneously absorbed in a light intensity that is underpinned by some superbly accomplished musicianship, which seems to hold you in a number of musical traditions at the same time.

For the full review, click here.

Drommon by Smote (Rocket Recordings)

Wow this album is quite a trip… get yourself into the right frame of mind and it is going to take you off on all sorts of cosmic journeys… along with the Upupayama album it’s possibly the one that affected me the most when listening to it this year. I don’t think I need write anymore as the above speaks for itself… blissful! 

For the full review, click here.

Music for Psychedelic Therapy by Jon Hopkins (Domino)

While you don’t need to take psychedelic drugs to enjoy this wonderful album from Jon Hopkins, it is made to facilitate such a trip should you wish to. Timed to be the length of a trip this luscious and beautifully arranged album is also an absolute deity-send for this non-druggy introvert who just wants to close his eyes and be somewhere else. Whether that is the Tayos Caves in Ecuador, which were Hopkins’ inspiration for this work, or somewhere else… the music here just allows you to take control and be wherever you want. The well placed field recordings can make you feel as if you are outside to the extent that you can almost feel the warm scented air of an evening, for instance.

Bandcamp link

Post Human/ Vertigo of Flaws by Trees Speak (Soul Jazz)

At the rate that Trees Speak knock out their music, two albums last year and two double albums this… all with additional 7” singles inside, you would think that the quality would start to wane. As someone who, by my own admission, can tire of bands who fail to experiment; it would be entirely possible that I would have got bored of such a prolific band by now. Not a bit of it though, and I have found myself marvelling at the range of electronic music that Trees Speak are producing by continuing to mine rich seams from the last fifty years, while integrating them together so well. I have to say that I really can’t separate these two releases… so I’m including both!

Intimate Immensity by Tomaga (Hands in the Dark)

Although released in the first quarter of 2021, this album has only recently popped up to speak to me. Once it did I was all in with it. Finished just before the untimely death of Tom Relleen, who is half of the duo with Valentina Magaletti, this is a deep and majestic exploration of sound in which, as the bandcamp notes state: “Relleen introduces us into Tomaga’s pulsing universe where space and meaning, articulated by sound, acquire breath and character as an expressive place where you can feel at home.” This is very much the case as you shift from one reality to the next with this complex and ultimately very satisfying album.

The Utopia Strong by The Utopia Strong (Rocket Recordings)

OK so this originally came out in 2019, but there was a re-press this year so I’m using that as an excuse. I missed out on this album back then, but having seen the band play with Teeth of the Sea recently I’m now very much on board with these lovely electronic meanderings, with ’Brainsurgeons 3’ being one of my most listened to tracks of the year. So I am very happy to have caught up and now cannot recommend this album too highly.

Glødetrådar by Nils Økland (Hubro)

Although attributed to Nils Økland, this is a superbly played album by a host of high calibre musicians who Økland takes time to get to know and understand personally as well as professionally. The result is a set of songs that are brittle and nuanced, and sharp like a bright winter’s morning… it’s music that is visible on the breath. It is one of those collections where I cannot exactly say why I like it so much… just that it hits me very deeply and soulfully. Just wonderful.

Joy; Division by Requiem and Simon McCorry (Woodford Halse)

For me this was the stand-out release of the year from the excellent Woodford Halse label… a wonderfully rich and ambient album which is striking when you first listen to it, but then builds with each listen. This is in many ways a deep, dark and dramatic work which really deserves a wide listenership… those who give it time will be taken into a netherworld of shifting structure and long drones of the soul.

Embassy Nocturnes by Aging ~ Land Trance (Tombed Visions)

This is an intriguing collaboration between Manchester jazz/ noir quintet Aging, and Liverpool experimental duo Land Trance. Together they have produced an album which seems to take the best of them both and push new boundaries of what is possible for them. What I found particularly striking was how immediate the album felt despite it’s sometimes fragmented persona… for me there is something both panoramic and introverted about this music which evokes something that is both cinematic and highly personal at the same time… all of which is perhaps a few different ways of saying that there are certain musical conundrums within this set… all of which are resolved with seemingly easy aplomb. Either way this is one of my biggest surprises of the year… and I like musical surprises.

Romance of the Stars by Eat lights Become lights (Polytechnic Youth)

Eat lights Become lights is the project of multi-instrumentalist Neil Rudd, and while I have been enjoying his music for a number of years, I realised that I have never really acknowledged that fact here. That is something I am very happy to put right here with, what is for me, his strongest album to date with a series of meditative electronic tracks on the first side, followed by a single long-piece on the second side of the vinyl which is apparently many years in the making and is something of a tour de force. All in all an excellent collection which is well worth its place here.

Entendre by Nik Bärtsch (ECM)

Contemporary piano music isn’t really something I know a lot about, but there is something about this album which really appeals to me…. It’s probably because it seems to sit at the crossroads of a number of genre, including jazz and modern classical, and engenders such wonderful feelings through Bärtsch’s excellent playing. Probably better that you have a listen… it’s on ECM so you know it’s going to be good!

Easy To Build, Hard To Destroy/ La Mort Du Sens by Gnod (Rocket Recordings)

Two albums from different ends of GNOD’s output, both of which are statements of intent and contain powerful messages about our persistent and inherently broken system. A chance to see them live at a superb gig in Leeds this year further embellished my GNOD experience in 2021, confirming them as one of the most energised acts on the British underground scene.

John Dwyer Lockdown Albums

According to my calculations a total of fourteen musicians worked on the sessions that resulted in these five albums (‘Bent Arcana’, ‘Witch Egg’, ‘Endless Garbage’, ‘Moon Drenched’, and ‘Gong Splat’) with Brad Caulkins and Tom Dolas of the Oh Sees appearing on all but the most recent, ‘Gong Splat’. Bent Arcana sees largely the same line up as Moon Drenched, while Greg Coates appears with his stand-up bass on the other three. All I can say in summary is that separately they are all worthy of your time… but collectively they represent a remarkable achievement not withstanding the fact that the musicians all recorded these remotely… but when you take that into account, well… just… wow!

‘Bent Arcana’ was on last year’s list

For the full review, click here.



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  1. Great round up of some choice lps! Lots to investigate. I will have to check out the Six Organs release as I have lost track of Ben Chasny’s many albums! Also the Hannah Peel and Djinn sound interesting For me, im enjoying the Sunburned album alot.
    Thanks for the article.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Some great picks, I’m surprised the recent Cult of Dom Keller album didn’t make this list since its a great album and you have an effusive post on it.


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