Archive | December, 2021

Top Five Albums of 2021 – Neeharika’s List

31 Dec

With the global pandemic wreaking havoc on live music, gatherings, and most social interaction in 2020, the musical output in 2021 was understandably a little understated. Still, we managed to get great follow-up albums from the likes of Billie Eilish, as well as much-heralded debut albums from Lil Nas X, Olivia Rodrigo and more. Stalwarts like the Foo Fighters, Coldplay and the Killers released new albums, and 2022 is expected to bring albums from other big names like the Arctic Monkeys. Below are my top picks for the year that was. Enjoy, and let me know what you think!

5. Delta Kream by the Black Keys

The Black Keys: Delta Kream Album Review | Pitchfork

Technically, Delta Kream is not original music from the Black Keys; the album is a collection of blues standards as performed by the Black Keys. However, in a world where very few people had access to live music, Delta Kream was the closest thing to attending a spectacular concert – having been recorded live and as-is by the blues duo – and for that I am eternally grateful. Highlights from the album include the rollicking first single “Crawling Kingsnake”, the yearnful “Stay All Night” and the bouncy “Do the Romp”. Check out Delta Kream if you need a new Black Keys fix, or if you want a primer into classic blues standards, or, simply, if you want a good time.

Read our full review here.

4. Sour by Olivia Rodrigo

As far as debuts go, few in history have achieved the mindboggling success of Olivia Rodrigo – the closest equivalents being perhaps Billie Eilish or the Strokes. The late-teenager forged her career in the star-making fires of Disney Channel, a la Selena Gomez or Hillary Duff. However, what sets Rodrigo’s album apart and makes it a true pop classic is the subject matter. Rather than watered-down mainstream pop topics like those regularly found on other such post-Disney albums, Sour is a highly-relatable slice-of-life look into what it’s like to be 17: the angst, the heartbreak, the confusion of being not quite a child but not quite an adult. Plus, the album is buoyed by several of the biggest hits of 2021, including the chart-busting heartbreaker “drivers license” or the surprisingly punky “good 4 u”. Even if pop’s not your thing, don’t miss out on Olivia Rodrigo – she’s got a few tricks up her sleeve.

Read our full review here.

3. Sometimes I Might Be Introvert by Little Simz

Little Simz has been on the radar for quite a few years, but the past year-and-a-half has shed a particularly strong limelight on the young British-Nigerian rapper. The five-track Drop 6 EP (2020) was very well-received (including by us), and she also broadened her mainstream recognition by cannily remixing her existing track “Venom” for, well, the Venom movie this year. Sometimes I Might Be Introvert is the perfect follow-up for her widening fame – in fact, it may be the best thing she’s made in her entire career. Tracks like “Speed” and “Standing Ovation” show off her fantastic rapping skills, whereas songs like “Point and Kill” and “Protect My Energy” highlight her ability to bring in lots of different genres into her music.

Read our full review here.

2. MONTERO by Lil Nas X

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past five years, you have heard of the rapper-provocateur known as Lil Nas X. Born Montero Lamar Hill (from which this album gets its name), Lil Nas X pushed his way into international stardom through “Old Town Road”, most notably the remix featuring Billy Ray Cyrus. As time went on, it became clear that the man is a marketing genius, cunningly building off of a genuinely great song through innumerable remixes that extended the attention-grab for many months post the release of the original track. Although he had a similarly huge hit with “HOLIDAY” (not so much with “PANINI”), there was always the question: was Lil Nas X a one-hit (or two-hit) wonder? With the debut album MONTERO, he has given us the answer: absolutely not. The album is of course carried by the three chart-topper singles: the title track “MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)”, “INDUSTRY BABY” featuring Jack Harlow, and “THAT’S WHAT I WANT” – but there’s definitely more here than just those, for example the slow-burning “DEAD RIGHT NOW” that is kind enough to provide the story of Lil Nas X’s rise from obscurity into superstardom. Apart from the aforementioned Jack Harlow feature, other features on MONTERO result in some of the album’s other best tracks: including the bouncy, funky “SCOOP” featuring Doja Cat and the iconic “ONE OF ME” featuring Elton John. Overall, MONTERO proves that Lil Nas X and his pop / rap / trap / everything sound is here to stay – don’t miss out.

1. Happier Than Ever by Billie Eilish

The much-awaited sophomore album from the biggest pop star in the world did not disappoint. Turns out, Happier Than Ever had been rolling out in public for exactly a year before its release on July 30, starting with “my future” way back in July 2020. Almost all of the other singles – “Therefore I Am”, “Your Power”, “NDA”, “Lost Cause” – struck gold too. Happily, the rest of the album also holds up, with non-single stand-outs like the sultry “Billie Bossa Nova” and the electropop gem “Oxytocin”. Happier Than Ever is chockful of great moments, and constructively adds to the artist’s debut sound – as any good sophomore album should.

Read our full review here.

Special Mention: Is It Time to Eat the Rich Yet? by the F16s

At five songs long, 2021’s Is It Time to Eat the Rich Yet? from Chennai-based indie stars the F16s couldn’t quite make our full list above. But I would be remiss to not highlight the sparkly, synth-heavy album as one of the best things I’ve heard all year. We’ve already talked about “Trouble with Paradise”, with its jazzy horns and lovely staccato beats, in October’s Monthly Playlist – but in all honesty, it’s tough to pick the best song from the five on this EP. The catchy “Sucks to Be Human” rests on the keys-driven rhythm and the ever-present nonchalance of lead singer Josh Fernandes’ vocals, but the most surprising aspect is that it’s actually about humanity’s stupidity w.r.t. climate change (“How did we end up with a planet left in ruin / we’re fighting battles that we only keep on losing / Apologies but it sucks to be human”). The muted intro on “Easy Bake Easy Wake” opens up nicely into the main synth line peppered with horns, as Fernandes describes a manipulative girl that he can’t help but be in love with. “She fucked me like the government and played me like a violin, violence,” goes his iconic description, but he’s still ready to be locked up and have her throw away the key. “I’m on Holiday” is the soundtrack to that palm tree-patterned vacation that you wish you took in these pandemic years, so at the very least, feel free to pop  on this song and sip an orange cocktail or something. If these four songs are tied for first, the smile-through-the-panic vibes on “The Apocalypse” are perhaps half a step behind – but overall, the song rounds out this great EP quite well. Is It Time to Eat the Rich Yet? clocks in at less than 20 minutes so you really have no excuse to not give this one a spin. Go for it!

Listen on Spotify:

Top Five Albums of 2021 – Nikhil’s List

31 Dec

Above all else in 2021, there are two disappointments that naturally loom heavy. I can’t say that they don’t put a damper on wrap-up lists like this or that I don’t personally wish they were better, but to focus on them is to lose sight of a year that has had some particularly bright moments for music. We had a stellar debut album, some top-notch jazz and the consolidation of a rapper who has unquestionably found himself.

5. Tyler, The Creator – CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST

It’s still a little novel to see a mature Tyler. There was never any question when he started out that he was not only immensely talented but also a very intelligent and very sensitive young man, but did need to squint to see it through all the antics. Now, you would have to be blind to miss it.

Pairing with DJ Drama was a good start. The two feed off each other, each bringing out more fun, chaotic energy from the other and the occasional guest spot builds further upon that. It’s when he gets to telling stories though that the album is at its best though. His narrative of his friend’s girlfriend in “WILSHIRE” is one of the strongest stories that rap has ever dropped and the kind of thing that only Tyler could make. If you only listen to a single song from 2021, make it this one.

Read our full review here.

4. Low – HEY WHAT

I tend to see slowcore as soundscapes. They feel like murals, not miniatures. It’s music that you can see with unfocused eyes. HEY WHAT is music of that scale and yet intricate in its detail. There are thousands of thoughts, each expressed in tiny spaces. It’s very clever and very understated and somehow willing to reward you no matter how you approach it.

Read our full review here.

3. Olivia Rodrigo – SOUR

I’m not young anymore. I haven’t even felt young in a long time. SOUR wears its youth on its sleeve. This is about coming of age, of throwing yourself at a boy who doesn’t treat you right and of feeling your feelings. Olivia Rodrigo goes from heartbroken to honest to gloriously petty with the speed and the intensity that only teenagers can bring to bear and she does it all with startlingly clever lyrics and undeniable music. SOUR is nothing short of a phenomenon.

Read our full review here.

2. Vijay Iyer, Linda May Han Oh, Tyshawn Sorey- Uneasy

You just can never really get a handle on Uneasy. This is an album that always stays just a little out of reach, that always keeps you just enough off balance that you cannot quite find your feet. It’s exhilarating in the way of an off-kilter roundabout and just as quick to leave you dizzy.

Jazz is at its best when it holds to its political roots and Uneasy does just that. It takes all of the disorientation that it builds with such intelligence and skill and uses that to remind you how unsettling the present day is and that icy water to the face is what makes this album truly excellent.

Read our full reveiw here.

1. Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders, London Symphony Orchestra – Promises

I’m honestly still a little surprised that this collaboration happened, but it’s not at all surprising that the pieces all fit together so well. This style of nature-infused, spiritual music has offshoots in all of the styles of music represented here. However, it’s still magical to see it all come together.

It’s evocative and yet fully detailed. You can feel the forest and every living being all at once and yet the austerity of nature gets tempered by a wonderfully human saxophone and so the whole lifts you further and further to the point where even the silence after the album finishes is suffused with its glow.

Read our full review here.

Listen on Spotify:

Halsey – If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power

17 Dec

Some albums are more than ready to just come out punching. If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power rocks hard and unapologetically. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross do stellar production work, giving the whole album a strong edge, but it’s really in the emotion that Halsey herself brings to the table that makes the project so strong.

At it’s best, in songs like the magnificent “I am not a woman, i’m a god,” the music is maximal and anthemic. “I am not a woman, I’m a god / I am not a martyr, I ‘m a problem / I am not a legend, I’m a fraud / So keep your heart ’cause I already got one” is a good, strong, feminist chorus for a good, strong, feminist song.

“Girl is a gun” has a lot of the same strengths, but is fun and sexy to boot. “In The Lighthouse” has Halsey punch out a chorus over an absolutely filthy riff. It’s very grunge and very clever.

This is unfortunately balanced by a lot of filler though. “Darling” is forgettable, “You asked for this” has nothing interesting in it and some music that grates. “honey” is fine, but predictable and I want to get to the more interesting songs.

Additionally, it often falls into triteness. The surprisingly Foo Fighters cut “Easier Than Lying” is quite a good song, but the lyrics fall more into trite than truthful and that hurts it. “Whispers” features a fascinating flow and has a nice gear shift in it, but the clever music is once again undercut by the uninspired lyrics.

That there are flaws is undeniable, but when the music gets going, it more than overcomes any weaknesses. “I am not a woman, i’m a god” is a sublime achievement and the kind of song that defines an artist. If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power is unafraid to just rock and the result is nothing short of stellar.

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