The best albums in six genres of 2021
Without asking, Spotify told me at the end of 2021 that I had listened to music on the application for a total of 66,577 minutes (or nearly 1,110 hours). And that my main genres were indie rock, jam bands, neo-psychedelic, folk rock and blues rock. Spotify also stated that if 2021 was a movie and I was its main character, the soundtrack would include the following songs: The late talented guitarist Neal Casal Road butterfly, New Orleans R&B singer Jon Batiste I need you, and the all-female punk rock group Sleater-Kinney’s Worry with you. It was all part of Spotify Wrapped, which if you subscribe to the app, you’ll get a summary of what you’ve been listening to throughout the year. Welcome to the somewhat cheesy world of music application algorithms.
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Besides Spotify, I also have other apps and sources to meet my listening needs. There’s Apple Music, Bandcamp, Soundcloud, YouTube Music, not to mention the old-fashioned vinyls and CDs that have been collected for decades. If I had made a list of all the songs and albums I listened to in 2021 (the majority of which was because of this column that I write regularly), I don’t know what trend or pattern of preference would emerge and if that would be what the folks (or bots) at Spotify have been packing for me. Anyway, here’s a list of six albums from six genres that I think are the best new albums I’ve listened to in 2021.
Best rock album: If your rock style is rich in guitars and with classical roots, then The War on Drugs must be a band you love. They started in the early 2000s as an indie band, but have now grown into a mainstream band with arena-filling potential. The conductor Adam Granduciel is their driving force and their latest album, I don’t live here anymore, is meticulously crafted and takes the band’s ability to combine experimentation with easily accessible classical guitar rock to a new heights. It’s an album that you can spin endlessly and each time be struck by their infectious music.
Best blues album: In recent times this old genre with an old tradition dating back to the middle of the 19th century has been revived by many new artists across the world. But no one stands out like 22-year-old bluesman Christone “Kingfish” Ingram. When his debut album came out in 2019, he was called “a young bluesman with an old soul.” On his second album, titled 662, Ingram, a native of Clarksdale, Mississippi, a historic blues location, breathes new life into traditional blues with guitar work that is truly some of the greatest of its kind.
Best post-punk album: According to Spotify, the first song on the list of songs I liked the most was is not nice by the Swedish group Viagra Boys. It is Jazz well-being, their third full length album, which places it on this list as the best of post-punk this year. Founded by two tattoo artists, the Viagra Boys are loud and boisterous and their songs are sometimes angry, often about drugs, and have large portions of self-loathing. But they are a lot of fun to listen to. For an introduction to their music, check out their humorous debut single called Sport, and the music video for it. Unfortunately, towards the end of 2021, the Viagra Boys lost their guitarist Benjamin Vallé. Fans are hopeful the group can recover from the tragic setback.
Best Jazz Album: The best jazz album of 2021 is actually a very old one. John Coltrane’s most famous album is Supreme love, recorded in 1965, which, along with that of Miles Davis A kind of blue (1959) is considered one of the greatest jazz albums of all time. In 2021, however, there was a delicious windfall for jazz lovers in the form of a rare live recording of Supreme love of a performance by Coltrane and his band in Seattle shortly after the album’s release. The live recording is an extended version of the original and is full of glorious improvisations, pushing the boundaries of the genre. No better way to profit Supreme love again.
Best Independent Rock Album: Low, a duo from Minnesota, has been releasing albums since 1994. Yet they’re still fiercely indie. Uncompromising and adventurous, on their latest album, Hey what, they defy convention from the start. With static distortions, intriguing lyrics, and the unconventional use of guitar and drums (and no bass because the band didn’t replace their old bassist after he left), Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker keep surprising you with the unexpected throughout the album. For many, Low’s music may take some getting used to, but once you do, you can’t go back to their asymmetrical groove.
Best Heavy Metal Album: Courage is the seventh album by French metal band Gojira. The highly skilled quartet has a style between death metal and progressive rock, but what sets them apart is their commitment to the environment. Gojira often collaborates with Sea Shepherd, the marine conservation activism organization, and their songs have lyrics that speak to the degradation of the marine environment. Their style includes the yelps, growls, and squeals that characterize metal, but they are what you might call an intellectual metal band and one of the most literate in their genre of music. And Courage reaffirms this description.
THE LOUNGE LIST (Six tracks to end your week)
The dream of Harmony by The War on Drugs I can’t live here anymore
662 by Christone “Kingfish” Ingram from 662
is not nice by Viagra Boys from Jazz well-being
Supreme love, Pt. IV-Psalm by John Coltrane from Supreme Love: Living in Seattle
White horses by bottom of Hey what
Amazonia by Gojira from Courage
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