We continue our fortnight of top tens looking back at 2021 and looking forward to 2022.
Last time out we were talking about the musical moments that disappointed us in 2021. But while we may be picky, we aren’t always miserable. Here are the top ten amazing musical acts we discovered in 2021.
Harrison Whitford – A late discovery, but I am so stupidly in love with the album Harrison Whitford released in November that I had to include him here. It’s one of those albums that is so timeless and beautiful that I already know I’ll still be listening to it in 20 years, letting the gorgeous lyrics of ‘Ears That Could’ wash over me, indulging in the simple but beautiful chorus of ‘Helpless’, annoying people by pointing out the guitar tone on ‘Salvation Army.’
I’ve already gone back and listened to his debut and, while it doesn’t melt me in quite the same way as the new one, it suggests a trajectory that excites the fuck out of me. I can’t wait to see what comes next (although I hope it’s a UK tour and a gig in Manchester).
Anna B Savage – ‘Anna, ‘B’ and ‘Savage are the top three most used words on this website this year. Seriously, more than ‘and, ‘the’ and ‘floccinaucinihilipilification’. Thanks to Fran’s tip to listen to A Common Turn back in whichever lockdown it was, things took an immediate turn for the better. She followed up with a superb EP and the singalong chorus of the year in ‘Since We Broke Up’. We bought tickets for her October gig in hope more than expectation and luckily everything went ahead as planned. I was so close to Anna down the front that I didn’t want to sing along to every word just in case she could hear me failing to hit any note and it putting her off. She said hi to me afterwards and she’s been super receptive to all our praise on social media. Good music. Good egg.
For Those I Love – It was a discovery that could have happened much earlier in the year had I been more diligent at checking out new music. Fran mentioned For Those I Love in the WhatsApp group, but thinking it was another post-punk project by the serious sounding title, I didn’t pursue it. Cut to October, and I’m listening at night to Fabric presents Overmono on the M60. The Overmono remix of ‘I Have A Love’ hits the speakers and it inspires me to search for the album at my desk the next day. This is all a long-winded way of saying that this album is magic. If you like spoken word and electronic music, this does an amazing job of seamlessly making the two work together in a way that is celebratory and moving at the same time. If you haven’t listened already, I’d urge you to.
Black Country, New Road – It seems like the critics loved a lot of post punk this year. But for me, none stood up to the BCNR album For the First Time. The high points in this album are some of the best music I’ve heard this year with tracks like ‘Athens, France’ and ‘Track X’. But the crown goes to ‘Sunglasses’. The way this song evolves and then devolves is so much fun, earning every minute of the 9 minutes run time. I love the wry deadpan delivery as it is set against the stupidly dramatic music.
Angèle – Hardly a ‘new’ act, but definitely someone I only managed to catch up to during 2021. After featuring on the brilliant Dua Lipa single Fever, the Belgian singer has had a pretty big year in the run up to her second album Nonante-Cinq, so I thought I’d finally see what the fuss was about. It’s truly exciting and modern sounding pop music, but performed in such a dynamic way. Debut album Brol is 3 years old at this point but still sounds super fresh, while the new album is stacked with brilliant pop tunes and engaging performances. Single ‘Bruxelles je t’aime’ was a last minute favourite on my playlists, while ‘Solo’ is a storming track. My French may need a little more work if I plan to understand any of the lyrics, but as a performer and popstar Angèle has me very excited for the future.
Mckinley Dixon – We featured For My Mama And Anyone Who Look Like Her on the podcast earlier this year and, while I liked it a lot at the time, it has continued to grow on me with every listen. It is one of the most exciting albums of the year and the perfect showpiece for one of rap’s brightest talents.
While the influences are obvious, Dixon shows enough on this album to show that he has an absolutely huge future ahead of him. Listen if you haven’t already.
Rachael Lavelle – Having mentioned the Anna B Savage gig (those words again), I should also mention the astonishingly assured and talented support act that night, Rachael Lavelle. Unique voice, unique sound, unique style. Her mellow demeanour masks songcrafting power, a bewildering variety of synth sounds and an unexpected sense of humour. One of the best support acts I’ve ever seen. I’ll be looking out for more from her in future.
Ak Dan Gwang Chil – When we started the year I didn’t expect a Korean Shamanic Folk-Pop act to be one of my favorite discoveries, but here we are. This group creates pulsing music that is jam packed with sounds and rhythms that are new and exciting (at least to me). There is a cacophony of traditional instruments and a chorus of 3 folk singers that just delivers energy. It’s been a great antidote to the Groundhog Day that was 2021.
Nala Sinephro – Aside from spoken word, a unifying theme across a number of my favourite 2021 records was ambient music. Floating Points et al and Cassandra Jenkins released albums which were almost meditative in the gentle pacing and impressive restraint shown in their instrumentation. Nala Sinephro’s Space 1.8 has probably become my favourite of these albums. The care in which Sinephro’s arrangements punctuate silence is easy to overlook if you listen in a distracted state of mind. But play Space 1.8 on a daytime walk or an idle Sunday morning and the majesty of her craft can be appreciated in full. I appreciate I sound like a mindfulness podcast here but honestly give the album a listen and tell me I’m wrong. Sinephro’s feature on the Nubya Garcia Source remix album was also a pleasure and I’m now eagerly awaiting what she does next.
Griff – Pop music had a pretty great year in 2021, and no one had a bigger breakout moment like Griff did. Fresh from winning the Rising Star award at the Brit Awards, it was her performance of the brilliant ‘Black Hole’ that night where I finally took notice. Having such a unique sound when she sings is one thing, but it’s way she brings the listener in to fully engage emotionally that makes her such an exciting artist. Her debut EP One Foot In Front Of The Other followed on nicely from that hit, while ‘One Night’ became one of the year’s catchiest pop moments. I’m very excited to see what she does in 2022, a teaser for a song with Norwegian pop superstar Sigrid should kick the year off in a big way.