MITCH'S TEN ALBUMS FOR 2021
OLD MUSIC BACK ON THE MARKET
If 2021 taught me anything, it’s that the guitar ain’t dead! A good chunk of that is probably just confirmation bias or some sort of reversion to comfort listening rather than a trend in the last 12 months of releases, but there were a hell of a lot of releases over the last year with it front and centre. Although 2021 felt like an extension of 2020 (are we still living in the long-2020?) at least this year seemed to mark some sort of step away from the ever annoying “lockdown album” trend…
Bracketing the calendar year is always weird. A few stragglers from 2020 showed up that probably would have made it in to my list for that year (and even this one), namely, David Nance’s Staunch Honey (Trouble In Mind) and Blue Divers’ self titled LP (Bedroom Suck), and I’m sure that there are a few that haven’t made their way into the shop yet that haven’t made it to this one (if the new Troth album is anything like the last, it deserves a spot on this list).
Anyway, in an effort to bracket the year…. 2021 was book-ended by two releases on featuring the Philly shredder Emily Robb on Petty Bunco: first the killer song based self-titled Astute Palate LP (not included here because Eternal Soundcheck did the Oz CS release back in 2020) and then followed up later in the year with the warped and abstract rock’n’roll blowout of her solo debut, How To Moonwalk. Both releases seemed to map out where the bulk of my listening lay, somewhere along the spectrum of tight songwriting and sprawling guitar work.
A bunch of country/folk-influenced stuff seemed to shine through (could use the word “singer-songwritery” but yuck) and was probably what I listened to most. Rosali’s LP was a set of slow burning yet steamy songs that damn well deserved to be the crossover hit of the year. Styrofoam Winos were a bolt out of seemingly nowhere (more accurately, they’re three songwriters playing together who’ve been active in Nashville for a while) that bridges a gap between a kind of Athens, Georgia-ish indie rock with an more alt-country lilt. Maxine Funke’s on the other hand was a bit of a surprise in its departure from the recently rereleased LPs on Digital Regress. Seance continued on the home-fi trajectory, but with the incredibly good dubby aside ‘Moody Relish’. Lumping these (and the others in the list) into some sort of singer-songwriter category feels disingenuous considering how different they are. But maybe what they all share in common is a ‘synergy’ (to use the most disgusting language possible…) to them that on the surface suggested they were straightforward albums but wound up being heavy hitters.
Others also seemed to hover around that zone. Cassandra Jenkins’ LP took folk structures and extended them out through contemplative new age instrumentation that was on constant rotation in my car for months. In a similar way (but with less new age and more droning psych), Stefan Christensen’s Cheap Things took song structures and blew them out into guitar zoners. Putting this one back on the turntable recently made me realise how much more time I should have (and will) spend with it! On the reissue front, Night School’s best-of Jackie Leven pointed out the breadth and depth of solo a catalogue that I only had cursory knowledge of, highlighting an array of sleeper hits (including the all-timer post-Bowie jam, “The Sexual Loneliness Of Jesus Christ”). The Avonden reissue gave me a bit of a broader context to the VU-inflected Dutch underground scene that spawned Lewsberg, and listening to the newly unearthed Warumpi Band tapes from their cover-band days felt like listening to highly concentrated rockers.
I guess all these roads lead to Neil Young? The two live reissues really hit a spot for me this year. Way Down In The Rust Bucket captured Ragged Glory/Reactor era Crazy Horse at their best. Of the two solo recordings, Carnegie 1970 was the better. Just when you thought you couldn’t listen to another NY solo set from the early 70s, this one crops up as a crystal clear recording with strange digressions on songs that I don’t recall hearing anywhere else. But the new stuff was also top class from NY&CH. To be honest, I was a little shocked how good Barn was; a freewheelin’ and seemingly off-the-cuff full band session that holds up among his best over the last twenty odd years.
The local stuff that I enjoyed most this year seemed to sit outside this nexus. Monica Brooks’ minimalist/maximalist droning piano work finally saw the light of a widespread release. I stupidly overlooked the original cassette of YL Hooi’s amoebic dub pop on Altered States Tapes, so the Efficient Space reissue was new to me and became a shop-play favourite. (As a slight aside, seemed to be an accompaniment to the darker dubby offerings of UK trio Mosquitoes this year). Hopefully the Chateau tape gets a similar treatment. The short run on Hideotic/Hobbies Galore disappeared pretty quick considering the sprawling psych-prog collab between Alex McFarlane and Al Montfort is hopefully a stayer!