Revisiting 2021’s Albums of the Year

Regular readers and listeners will know that I put a lot of thought into my albums of the year list each year, regardless of the fact that nobody but me will ever read or listen to my list. As I write this, lists from big publications and record stores are starting to show up on a semi regular basis – and I am hard at work compiling my final 50, too – wondering what will make the cut, trying to decide which will just miss out on my top ten, whether the number one spot will go to one album or the other. It takes over my life from mid-November onwards.

Most years, I have compiled a top twenty. But, as a mark of how much more music I am listening to since this Picky Bastards thing began, and because I couldn’t face leaving too many things out, last year saw me try and put fifty albums in order. You can find them in the playlist below:

But as 2022’s top fifty forms, I am finding myself questioning whether all these albums that I am so excited about right now will stay with me once my obsessive listing ends for the year. Is there any point in me doing any of this?

The best way to judge that is to take a look back at last year’s list and see how that fared. What did I get right? What was I wrong about? What has stuck with me and what has faded away? Join me on this pointless quest to find out…

What did I get right?

I have no regrets around my eventual winner. Anna B Savage’s A Common Turn remains an absolute constant for me and probably will for years – it’s beautiful, challenging, and thought-provoking. I made the right decision there.

And the rest of my top ten is strong, too – so I am not holding too many regrets there. A great bit of post punk from Squid in second, stonking albums from The Weather Station and Harrison Whitford in my top 5, an exciting and underrated bit of folk from Chloe Foy. Add in great albums from Low, Tirzah and Stephen Fretwell, and an Arlo Parks album that would probably be higher than tenth if I re-did my list today, and we’re looking at a lot of quality.

Self Esteem’s Prioritise Pleasure came out late in the year but still made third place in the end – it may have had more of a chance of hitting the top spot if I’d had longer with it, although Anna would have been hard to unseat. I would say that PP is the album from the list that I’ve listened to most in 2022, though.

One of the most controversial calls (among the 3 people who looked at my list) was seeing Little Simz only make the forty-seventh slot on the list, but I stand by that too. While it has some standout songs, and Simz is among the most exciting artists alive, the album still feels like a giant mess to me. Fight me.

What did I get wrong?

Lots. Top ten aside, there are some weird calls here. How did Crawler by IDLES make my top twenty? I genuinely have no clue. Maybe the fact that it came out later in the year and was much better than Ultra Mono gave me a bit of late year insanity, but that slot is far too high. It would still make my list, but closer to the bottom of the fifty than the top.

And in the opposite direction, I was probably harsh on albums from Big Red Machine, LUMP, and Torres – these are three very good albums, but given that they were from artists I already loved I might have not given them the credit they deserved. For me, none of them lived up their predecessors, but they’re all definitely better than IDLES and many of the other albums that I put above them.

What has stuck with me and what has faded away?

Maja Lena’s The Keeper finished below Little Simz on last year’s list, but I have listened to it more in 2022 than 90% of the other albums that made the cut. It’s a beautiful, gentle album – which might explain why it placed so low. It could be missed if you don’t give it time. But I have given it time now, and I’m glad to say that. Other than that, it is mainly Anna, Self Esteem, Harrison Whitford, Squid, Arlo Parks, John Smith, Chloe Foy, Shame, and Slowthai that have still made my regular rotation. Which means that of the fifty albums I was pushing at the end of last year, only ten are still getting anything more than a cursory listen.

That may be an answer to some of my questions in the opening paragraph.

I was really excited by Museum of Love, Billie Marten, Mick Jenkins, Ocean Wisdom, and more when I put the list together – but can’t remember when I last heard them. That said, that might be more to do with the amount of music I listen to than anything about the quality of these LPs.

What does this tell me?

Not a lot, really. In the end, around a fifth of the albums on last year’s list have survived the year – although many probably deserve a revisit. I guess finding ten albums that I love in a year is pretty solid, and maybe I wouldn’t have given them so much time if I wasn’t such a list nerd. That said, there are probably twenty to twenty-five albums on there that I will never hear in full again – so the amount of time I spent ranking them last December seems a bit of a waste.

The thing that inspired me to think about this was a nagging question about the arbitrary nature of pitting albums against each other, something we return to often here at Picky Bastards (see Tom’s article from just a few weeks ago). Given that I can now look back on last year’s meticulously curated top fifty and immediately spot a million mistakes, it is clear that there is something behind these nagging doubts.

But then again, I enjoy the process and it encourages me to spend more time with new music than ever before – so surely that’s a good thing.

And, to be clear, as I work on my 2022 top fifty I know that it is perfect, and right, and exceptional, and that it will stand 100% true this time next year. I promise.

Words by Fran Slater

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