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2021-12-18

MUSIC 2021: TOP 21 albums



Yes, in anticipation of the coming year (20+22=42) all signs are on silly numerology here. So after my 7 favorite live shows, 7 favorite live albums and 7 favorite non-album releases, it's only consequent to present my top 21 albums of the year now, to make the number which explains everything, 42, full again. But since 21 really isn't that much for this category, I've coupled each position with one more or less fitting extra recommendation. So yeah baby, we got 42 again.

The general rules are: This is my own fucking personal ranking, so no whining is allowed. It's only about albums which I already own in some form. It does not include reissues (my favorites are the first vinyl version of Brian Ellis's "Quipo" and the 25th Anniversary Edition of "Relaxing With..." The Heads), unless there hasn't been a physical release before. Following that logic also all releases, where I'm still waiting for my copy (I'm looking at you, Rostro Del Sol, Zaäar, The Lovecraft Sextet...) aren't considered until next year.
And of course there's also stuff still coming in now, which is just too late to the game.

As always - and most important: Music shouldn't be a competition anyway, so after the first couple of places the order really doesn't matter much and could be different on any day depending on my mood. So with all that being said, here are my...


TOP 21 ALBUMS 2021:

    1. AD NAUSEAM - Imperative Interceptible Impulse

      It's already hard to be more death metal than the Italians Ad Nauseam. But it's close to impossible to push the genre into more unique, unheard territories of dissonant avant-garde than they do on "Imperative Interceptible Impulse". Armed with their very own tuning, tons of dynamics and brutal virtuosity they created a sick masterpiece that makes most other metal albums look like elevator music in comparison. Listening to this double album might risk your sanity, but I prefer to imagine that it rather stimulates my cerebral receptiveness. A gift that keeps giving!



      One other boundless, yet in its loyalty to the core idea of the genre still somehow astonishingly pure death metal release of comparable magnitude is "Poison Palinopsia" by Qrixkuor. It consists of just two mammoth-tracks, over twenty-four minutes each, which fly by like a swarm of puking winged demons.





    2. SENYAWA - Alkisah

      Rooted in folklore, drone and unbridled experimentalism, amplified by self-build string, percussion and noise instruments and the exceptional vocal presence of Rully Shabara, the Indonesian duo Senyawa conjures a timeless spirituality and primal heaviness. While this music couldn't be more singular, its distribution is manifold, as "Alkisah" has been released in dozens of alternative versions by various labels all around the globe. The CN Edition by WV Sorcerer Productions, which includes a bonus CD with well-made remixes is a perfect package inside and outside.



      Senyawa also recently released their second (so far only digital) album of 2021. "Membaladakan Keselamatan (Ballads for the Survivors)" features acoustic reinterpretations of songs from previous albums and proves that even reduced to only acoustic guitar and voice the band's music is still incredible impactful, heavy, amazing.





    3. LINGUA IGNOTA - Sinner Get Ready

      The day has yet to come, when I will write something about Lingua Ignota and feel that I have done Kristin Hayter's art any justice. Even after dialing the obvious noise and brutality from "Caligula" down on her new wrath opus "Sinner Get Ready" and replacing it with a more naturalistic, folkloristic sound that sometimes even includes pure, pristine beauty, the way she channels heaviest themes and personal experience into profound, emotionally touching (if not even oppressing) art, is just one of a kind. A mercilessly uncompromising and unforgiving gospel that cannot leave you indifferent.



      Fans of Lingua Ignota should also check out "Mausoleum" by the Latvian trio Pamirt, whose singer Kristiāna Kārkliņa does not only remind of Hayter, but also takes notes from Jarboe, Anna von Hausswolff and Chelsea Wolfe. Their debut is rather short, but a grand and theatrical work of art nonetheless.
        





    4. ÅRABROT - Norwegian Gothic

      Kjetil Nernes, Karin Park and their family are living in an old church (which also works as recording studio and photo / video location) in the Swedish countryside. Rock'n'roll is their religion. On "Norwegian Gothic" their band Årabrot is redeeming everything this premise promises - and more. Recruiting help from members of Motorpsycho, Zu and Jaga Jazzists, as well as cellist extraordinaire Jo Quail they created nothing short of a dark noise rock / post punk masterpiece, filled with hits and creative surprises -  a carnival of the 80s, 90s and ultimately timeless rebellion.



      Oh well, fuck my no re-issues rule! There's no way of honouring "Norwegian Gothic" without uttering Karin Park's last solo album in the same breath. "Church Of Imagination" is equally as sprawling and intriguing, while speaking a different musical language of artistic pop with chamber, gospel and alternative rock elements. With "Omens To Come" it even features the original version of Årabrot's "Feel It On".






    5. SONS OF KEMET - Black To The Future

      They have done it again - the Sons Of Kemet are absolutely on fire! Fueled by the ongoing oppression and injustice people of colour keep facing "Black To The Future" is burning with urgency. Armed with two drumkits, tuba and saxophone, the Sons and guests like Moor Mother and Joshua Idehen continue their fight against the pain of the African diaspora and explore Black identity with a spectacular mix of bebop, funk, hip hop, Carribean and tribal music. Especially when the vocals halt for most of the second half of the double album, the musical storytelling gets spectacularly strong.



      A much more traditional, yet still vivid and exciting take on jazz can be heard on "The Space Where The Uncontrollable Unknown Resides, Can Be The Place From Which Creation Arises" by Work Money Death. The two longtracks "Dusk" and "Dawn" are perfect homages to the spiritual masters Pharoah Sanders, Sun Ra and John and Alice Coltrane.










    6. EMMA RUTH RUNDLE - Engine Of Hell

      You can call the instruments of Emma Ruth Rundle's minimalistic acoustic album piano and guitar, but in truth she's playing directly on our heartstrings. Mostly recorded in complete live takes "Engine Of Hell" is her most vulnerable, purest and bravest album to date. No other album on this list has captivated me inside a repeat loop and made me neclect the rest of my collection for weeks like this channeling of Emma's inner Tori Amos.



      Speaking of Tori, whose impact on my taste cannot be overstated, since there are at least four albums noticeably influenced by her on this list alone: with "Ocean To Ocean" she added a wonderful new gem - which in comparison to Emma's album is rather maximalist - to her now sixteen studio albums strong discography. Outstanding as ever!






    7. CYNIC - Ascension Codes

      After the passing of both Sean Reinert and Sean Malone it seems like Paul Masvidal pulled off an almost impossible miracle with this new Cynic album. While "Ascension Codes" surely carries the sentiment of tribute, eulogy and solace, the new age / alien genesis themed concept work doesn't bind itself to the past at all, but instead bravely thinks forward and explores new territories within and beyond the band's established cosmos. Just like Cynic has always done. But in a scope - filled with just so incredibly much music - noone could have ever dreamed  of. Rest in peace, Sean and Sean!



      Albeit I haven't come across anything even remotely similar to Cynic, I feel that this is the right place to point at the also very progressive, genre-defying and spiritually charged masterpiece "Har" from the Romanians Dordeduh, who have widened their palette of influences far beyond black metal and folk into all thinkable directions.






    8. KING WOMAN - Celestial Blues

      Doom metal album of the year? Thanks to Kristina Esfandiari that's an unusually easy choice for me. Not only due to her stunning vocal performance, which seems more rooted in grunge and shoegaze than in metal, King Woman's "Celestial Blues" has a luring quality which makes you voluntarily follow her Lightbringer / outcast Eve persona to the darkest pits of the underworld. In a very relative way by the standards of the genre every track on this crushing album is a compact, downright radio-friendly hit, an unheard yet still eerily familiar hymn of doom and gloom.



      It takes two bands to come close to King Woman's addictiveness. So dial up the oppressive riff power and let your ears be blasted by Jon Davis' (Conan) other, equally devestating Ungraven and the  masters of shared doom split releases, Slomatics, who present themselves in the most epic Khemmis shape here, on their mighty as fuck untitled split album!





    9. WANG WEN - 100,000 Whys

      How are Wang Wen doing this? You're always thinking that the Chinese almost-instrumental band has already reached post rock perfection, but then they keep proving that there's still room to grow with every album. The morriconisms of the guitar and keyboard licks and the glorious horns, trumpets and flutes alone are the stuff of dreams. Dipping into prog, jazz, latin influence, shamanistic chants and whatever they please at any given moment, but always keeping accessibility and a coherent uplifting spirit in focus, they finally recorded their perfectly wonderful, ultimate masterpiece with "1000,000 Whys". Well, at least for now, I guess.



      If you know my post rock monumentalism favorites, it won't surprise you that I can't say Wang Wen without also gushing about their better known Japanese half siblings Mono, who followed up an career-encapsulating live album with a studio release ("Pilgrimage Of The Soul"), that shows that they still have some new tricks up their sleeve, while never once loosening their special grip on your primal emotions.





    10. 夢遊病者 - Noč Na Krayu Sveta

      "This is Alice Coltrane and Toby Driver having a raging black metal baby. This is Mansur torturing Mono in hell. This is ambitious and beautiful, a piercing bliss so bright, it burns the eyes out of your skull." I doubt that I could summarize this chaotic thunderstorm of infinite instruments and styles under the umbrella of ritualistic black metal any better than I already did. Even though "Noč Na Krayu Sveta" is a rather short border case between EP and full album, the Russian/Japanese/American project 夢遊病者 proves itself as one of the most creative forces in (and far beyond) metal today.



      Sentient Ruin Laboratories released more than one other album deserving to be recommended here, but the most important one is probably "Abominion" by the US blackened industrial death doom metal war machine Abstracter. This relentless, destructive, pessimistic onslaught develops a vortical atmosphere which pulverizes you and inescabably sucks the remaining particles into the void.





    11. JÜ - III

      The third album of the Hungarian trio Jü has a truly complex premise, as it interprets traditional music from Eastern Europe, Northern Africa and Southeast Asia by drawing lines from psychedelic prog and math rock to experimental jazz fusion, from phase "Red" King Crimson over Mr. Bungle to Javanese gamelan music. And that doesn't even describe half of the experience, which also includes enchanting and insane guest vocals and electronic ambient noises. Few albums of 2021 blow over faster than "III" - and even less are a purer joy to spin.



      If especially the atmosphere of 's opening and closing tracks speak to you, you should immerse yourself in the already third album from The Mount Fuji Doomjazz Corporation mastermind Jason Köhnen's trio Mansur. The improvisations on "Minotaurus" drone with a foundation of bass and electronic sounds, over which oud and Martina Horváth's voice levitate to the furthermost mystical heights.







    12. I've stopped trying to fathom how Motorpsycho are doing it a long time ago. The Norwegians are putting out these huge sprawling subgenre-defying rock (double) albums so fast that there's just no other way than to feature the band in these rankings almost every single year. And "Kingdom of Oblivion" is a complete work in all respects: Music, lyrics, artwork, gatefold design, quality of the transparent disc... everything about this double album is just as top class as their "Gulvåg" trilogy.



      If you dig 
      Motorpsycho and love instrumental rock, you should also check out "Ding Dong, You're Dead!" by their fellow Norwegian country(wo)men Hedvig Mollestad Trio. It's an explosive mix of jazz, prog, funk, metal, experimentalism and hard rock that is guaranteed to kick your ass and brain!




    13. NICK HUDSON - Font Of Human Fractures

      "The Quiet Earth" by The Academy Of Sun was one of the greatest albums of 2020, but that's obviously no reason for Nick Hudson to rest on his laurels, as his solo album impressively proves. Between experimental synth pop, post punk, chamber sounds and grand piano art rock "Font Of Human Fractures" glistens in new facettes on each track, among which especially the multi-layered epic "Ballad of K69996 Roma", the glorious Exuma cover "Dambala" and "Come Back When There's Nothing Left" with Nick's transatlantic buddy Toby Driver as guest vocalist stand out.



      Speaking of Driver: His band Kayo Dot has also released a fantastic new album. "Moss Grew On The Swords And Plowshares Alike" was recorded by the line-up of the predeccessing group Maudlin Of The Well and is a sentimental throwback both within his autarkic musical cosmos and the bigger picture of the genre. Yet of course it's still as unparalleled and  forward-thinking as any piece of avant-garde gothic death ambient black etcetera metal could ever wish to be. 





    14. MONG TONG 夢東 - 台灣謎景 Music from Taiwan Mystery

      One of the most enigmatic albums of this year weaves Taiwanese folk and field recordings together with ambient drones and noises, experimental electronic music and a pinch of psychedelic rock. The interplay of modernism, tradition and anachronism which builds the mosaic of "Music from Taiwan Mystery" is utterly fascinating. A strange story, which I don't even come close to deciphering, yet it still transfixes me from beginning to end.



      Mong Tong have released a second album in 2021, but since my physical copy hasn't arrived yet, I'm using this space to highlight another outstanding WV Sorcerer release: "Míng Míng" by Otay:onii (aka Lane Otayonii, singer of the shoegaze band Elizabeth Colour Wheel) is an impressive and thrilling artistic statement between Björk and Dead Can Dance, brutal electro noise and Chinese tradition.





    15. LANA DEL REY - Chemtrails Over The Country Club

      Yes, the pop music slot on this list is reserved for Lana Del Rey once again. The songwriting, instrumentation, production... all the creative decisions which had to be made and on top of everything of course the absolutely flawless vocal performance are all pretty much perfect on "Chemtrails Over the Country Club". Even the featured guests hit the nail on the head again, so I'm actually more convinced now than back in April that the organic, dreamy, nostalgic folk ballad appeal of this is once again a perfect summation of how great pop music can actally be.



      Even though her albums never suffer from too short playing time, Lana Del Rey had enough stuff up her sleeve to release a full second album with "Blue Banisters". It sounds more deliberately washed-out (like "Ultraviolence"), sees more daring experiments and and at the same time feels even more nostalgic than "Chemtrails", because the lyrics are more autobiographic and several of its songs had been written years ago, but didn't find the proper place to be released before.





    16. BIG|BRAVE - Vital

      How do you break down music to its most minimalistic and brutal core while still keeping it engaging? Big|Brave are amongst those bands who have found and perfected the formula. The Canadian drone rock trio smashes you with guitar noises which can only just be called riffs at all, demonstrating an ever-growing mastership in the application of pauses and sounds - and still finding room for subtleties in this confined space. Robin Wattie multiplies the impact of "Vital" with a devastatingly emotional, raw vocal performance and heavy personal lyrics.



      Big|Brave also released a collaborative record with The Body this year, and surprisingly it's not the complete eardrum obliteration one could expect from this constellation. Instead "Leaving None But Small Birds" is their very intense and sincere take on English / American folk and country traditionals. In my mind this album completes a triumvirate, whose other parts are the ranks 3 (Lingua Ignotas) and 6 (Emma Ruth Rundle) of this list.





    17. NAOKO SAKATA - Dancing Spirits

      Ok, technically speaking, especially in a world which unvoluntarily questions the parameters defining a live show,  you could also count Naoko Sakata's "Dancing Spirits" as a live album, since it's just the Japanese pianist purely improvising seven pieces, recorded inside a church in Gothenburg. The profound moods, ideas and virtuosity flowing out of her fingertips into swirling, rousing, moving pictures beyond the parting lines between contemporary classical music, jazz and whatever drives her in the moment, make this records one of the most stunning  experiences of the year. I keep discovering something new every time I immerse in it.



      Since I don't have anywhere else to go from "Dancing Spirits", the only link to this recommendation is the common ground of improvisation. And the Danish freeform fusion rock ecstatics Mythic Sunship are exceptionally, explosively good at it. More krautish than ever, again sporting Søren Lyhne Skov's power saxophone, "Wildfire" does its title more than justice.






    18. NADJA - Luminous Rot

      There's a good handful of drone albums, which would rightfully deserve to be featured here, but since I'm feeling that I've neclected metal in this whole thing a little too much, I'm just going with the most metal one. Besides Nadja's "Luminous Rot" is also actually the most magnetic monster of that bunch. A formidably crushing beast of droning sludge / drum computer industrial metal and shoegaze, which cites from basically all phases Godflesh and Jesu have ever been through and adds a strong influence of the last White Hills albums. I strongly recommend the Japanese CD version, which features a worthwhile bonus longtrack.



      Ok, since we're already in the business of referencing industrial-ish greats, let's not omit the odd fact that this list is missing some Laibach, who sadly didn't get any of their recently promised studio works ready yet. Their metal countrymen Noctiferia (plus guests like Attila Csihar and David Vincent) however released an appropriately reconstructive cover album called "Reforma - Tribute To Laibach", which is pretty damn awesome.






    19. KING GIZZARD & THE LIZARD WIZARD - Butterfly 3000

      Does anyone still count how many albums König Muskelmagen und der Eidechse Zauberer (their name on my German version of "Schmetterling 3000") have put out at this point? Among the shapeshifting catalogue of the psych madmen from Down Under this one stands out with a very specific - and over its whole runtime very consistent - sound. Weird time signature psych rock meets sugary dream pop meets synth loop electronics. The result is dunked in almost obscene sweetness, but oh it's so fucking good! Addictive.



      Of course "Butterfly 3000" is not the only King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard work of 2021! "L.W." is equally as great and only doesn't get the spot in the ranking, because the successor of 2020's "K.G." is just not as completely original, being already the third full album of their microtonal explorations. It is however arguably the the most diverse and ultimately best one of that lot.





    20. SULA BASSANA - CV Sessions

      In current times recording a bedroom album while being stuck at home isn't exactly a unique selling point. Luckily Dave Schmidt's "CV Sessions" - even though they reflect the zeitgeist with a lot of ominous and brooding atmospheres - can confidently stand on their own without the context of the outer circumstances. The golden thread of this double album of elektrokraut jams is the use of modular synthesizer loops - which are connected via CV cables. The result is much more varied than the concept suggests and even in its darker moods developes soothing hypnotic qualities.



      One double album is something, two double albums in one year are certainly something more. "Loop Station Drones" is the spiritual sister of "CV Sessions" with a similar idea, but the subtle difference that these improvisations are based on effect loops. The quality of both is pretty much on par.





    21. AGUSA - En Annan Värld

      Once again the gorgeously extravagant psychedelic prog rock of the Swedish intrumental band Agusa just brings a big happy smile onto my face. Even though some darkness has crept into the two 20+ minutes longtracks, it's still a gloom which remains part of the big escapist fairytale, through which organ, guitar and the wonderful unmistakable flute are leading us. This music just let's me feel like a little round-eyed, big-eared child discovering everything in the world for the very first time again. And like that small boy deep down I know only one convincing explanation for what I'm experiencing here: magic!



      There are certainly a lot more deserving albums of both the psychedelic and the progressive kind out there, but I feel that the most exciting work to conclude this with is the gathering of Conny Ochs, Sicker Man and Kiki Bohemia under the moniker Trialogos. On their adventurous debut "Stroh Zu Gold" every single track explores a different flavour of kraut, while also wandering beyond that realm. Even though you should eat neither straw nor gold, this couldn't be more delicious!



    So that's a wrap! 2021. Of course I feel bad for a bazillion albums that didn't make it, but this already too long as it is, haha. Here are the previous parts:


    And here's a YouTube playlist with most of all that stuff:





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