We continue our fortnight of top tens looking back at 2021 and looking forward to 2022:
If there is one thing we excel at here at Picky Bastards, it’s arguing. You should see the state of our group chat. Having said that, if you were ever to see the true inner workings here then you might stop reading and listening to us at all. As a compromise, here are ten albums that we just couldn’t agree on in 2021 – let the fighting begin:
Wolf Alice – Blue Weekend – Our reaction to Blue Weekend exemplifies ‘mixed’ more than any other album from 2021. I gave it a reasonably positive review as I was happily taken in by two or three wonder songs. At the same time I recognised its shortcomings and still didn’t really ‘get’ Wolf Alice or understand who they are for. Matt settled in a similar position describing it as ‘fun’ and having their best ever songs but also a ‘total mess’. Sam baffled himself by loving it and choosing it as his album of the year. Tom was baffled that anyone could feel anything either way. Fran called it ‘appalling’, an ‘unlistenable mess’ and said it was the worst album to ever be nominated for a Mercury prize. And the Mercury point was possibly the only thing we could agree on – that they absolutely did not deserve to be a double winner, having already won the thing for a far worse album.
Dean Blunt – Black Metal 2 – Because of the abstract, rough-sketch nature of Dean Blunt’s musical output, it can divide. You either go with it or take against it. In the main, I go with it. He’ll never release a classic, because as soon as something is kinda finished, he puts it out. But Black Metal 2 had good ideas from start to finish – and surprising ones at that, with the Dr. Dre referencing cover disguising a series of pretty baroque pop song outlines. Of the stuff I’ve heard from him, it’s the most consistent project so far.
The reception on the podcast was at best lukewarm, at worst downright freezing. James compared it to the Peep Show scene where Jeremy intervenes in a band’s recording session to critique the laboured tone of the music. Nick immediately regretted his choice. And I get it: the deadpan vocal delivery added to the looseness of the sound makes it sound like he doesn’t care, so why should we? But honestly guys, just go with it.
Laura Mvula – Pink Noise – The Mercury Prize always throws up debate within the Picky Bastards Whatsapp group and Laura Mvula’s third album was no exception. I think everyone agreed that it definitely wasn’t as good as previous album The Dreaming Room, but some thought the 80s vibe felt like a pastiche and it was clearly a massive step away from what made her great. I disagreed and really enjoyed the pop aesthetics here, while Matt and Nick found it less interesting but not objectively terrible on the podcast. Everyone else ranged from mild indifference to ‘unlistenable’. It wasn’t a surprise that this was a divisive record, it’s definitely an album she wanted to make, it’s just whether we thought it had worked or not.
Dry Cleaning – New Long Leg – ‘Bouncy ball, bouncy ball, bouncy ball, bouncy ball.’ ‘Yabba, yabba, yabba.’ ‘Wrist band, theme park’. ‘Dentist, pasta bake, big Sainsbury’s.’
The above (and more nonsense) is, according to James’s review of New Long Leg, ‘the best lyrics you’ll hear all year’ and ‘pure brilliance’. So why do I only hear some Brit Schooler banging on, rabbiting like they’ve drunk too many proseccos at their cousin Hermoine’s wedding in the Maldives? There isn’t a lyric on this album that doesn’t annoy the fuck out of me, in fact. It’s like Made In Chelsea set to average guitar music.
That said, our man Tom Burrows thinks it’s the album of the year. I’m still waiting for him and James to admit they’ve been playing a year long practical joke on this one. At least I know I’m not alone, though – it went down like a lead balloon (or a Tokyo bouncy ball) on the podcast; so much so that one editor, Sam Atkins, has refused to even give it a listen. The lucky git.
Black Midi – CAVALCADE – Now I didn’t expect this album to go down smooth for everyone. Hell, I thought it was a drop off from their debut, as some songs do not have enough restraint. That said, in this all-or-nothing album, there are some moments that are resounding successes. ‘John L’ is a jam-packed and frenzied pandemonium that you cannot take your ears away from. Likewise the drama in ‘Chondromalacia Patella’ is irresistible.
They are easy targets for the naysayers though. Their avant-garde art jazziness is a lot. Too much for Fran as he has declared them to be a “pretentious guitarists wet dream”. James echoes this sentiment: “They are simply unlistenable”.
IDLES – CRAWLER – I didn’t like their old ‘good’ stuff. I thought I might like Ultra Mono since everyone thought it was pants. I didn’t. It was just them but worse. And when I heard the first song released from CRAWLER I thought it was someone (them) doing a parody of IDLES (also them). Sam hated it too of course, as did Fran initially, before coming round to the album as a whole. Matt gave it a measured ‘step in the right direction’. Fran said that ‘Progress’ was the least IDLES-y song they’ve ever done. Hated that too. Some consistency then for their detractors, slightly less frustrating for their fans.
Amyl and the Sniffers – Comfort To Me – I was never going to love an album as raucous and loud as this, but I couldn’t believe just how out of sync I was with fellow Picky Bs Fran and Matt when they called it ‘brilliant’ and ‘one of the punk albums of the year’. Will Collins even went as far as to say this was his album of the year! Maybe I just witched off as soon as the Australian woman started shouting at me, but I still don’t see the depth and lyrically interesting things everyone else seemed to see. I’d take any of the other shouty people albums from this year over Comfort To Me.
Squid – Bright Green Field – All the elements are there for me to like Squid. Unconventional art-rock song construction, signed to Warp, seemingly liked by everyone who likes the same stuff as me. And yet, every time I hear their music, there’s something undeniably missing. The songs on Bright Green Field sometimes sound good, but what the hell are they about? ‘Narrator’ is the best song here, but it seems completely nonsensical. According to the band, it’s about ‘an unreliable male narrator who has molded his own world’. Read the lyrics. How is it? It feels more accurate to describe the album as an extended jam session with words used vaguely to help it masquerade as a meaningful statement, rather than words used with purpose like other, much better albums released this year.
Plenty of others disagreed though. It went down a storm on the podcast, and Fran has it at no.2 on his albums of the year. I’m open to be swayed, but at the end of the year it’s a thumbs down for me.
Tirzah – Colourgrade – When I pressed play on Tirzah’s Colourgrade on release day I was immediately blown away. I took to the Picky Bastards editor’s chat to confidently tell them all how great it was, sure that at least a few of them would join me in celebration. The first response came a few hours later as Sam told me it was ‘a genuinely terrible album’. It took James a few weeks longer to declare that he ‘wouldn’t be listening again’ and by the time Tom’s lukewarm review appeared I was truly beginning to consider finding a whole new set of friends with better ears.
The main complaint among the group seems to be that it feels cold and difficult to penetrate, but I genuinely don’t know what they’re not hearing. This warm and beautiful album invited me in immediately and I’ve not left yet. It’s a breathtaking account of new motherhood with some of the most intensely captivating songs of the year.
Black Country New Road – For the First Time – Well simply put, this was one of the best albums of last year. This album is fun and dramatic. They have the patience to allow songs to mature naturally into tho these anthemic crescendos. It hits all the things I’m a sucker for. That’s why it was my favour
As it’s a bedfellow of the aforementioned Black Midi in the exciting experimental rock scene it came as no surprise that James did not like it. He called them “pretentious nonsense that needs to take the fucking snorkel off’. I just don’t think he likes his Jazz music polluted by indie boys with guitars.