What do I want? I WANT TO FUCKING DANCE! Furthermore, I want an album that skips between classic, honey-soaked Miami bass and the bestest electro of my wasted youth. Thank fuck FBC and Vhoor have delivered even more than that and given us the supreme, ultra, bastard apex PARTY ALBUM of 2021. If this doesn’t make you shake your arse, pull the earth over your eyes and say hello to the worms.
I first heard Magdalena Bay on TikTok, their track Chaeri interrupted my doomscrolling with a pulsating medulla of shame, longing and that stingy feeling in your eyes just before you cry. Checking the album out, I was surprised at the diversity, there’s more electrogaze like Chaeri but there’s also out-and-out Tame Impala bops, synthpop and post-post-postvapourwave. But genres, like the middle class, are an invention of the ruling class to divide the masses. This is great electronic pop music, put whatever hat you want on it.
There’s something about Parks’ writing that is scathing in its honesty at the same time as being nurturing; there’s never that weary sarcasm that infects so much singer-songwriter output. You will know the songs off the radio, stone killers like Caroline and Eugene but the album has many other small moments of quiet majesty. Yeah, I did need a hug, thank you.
The first time I listened to Glow On properly was with my mate Matt and we cackled as we shouted out what band we thought they were paying homage to on the currently playing track. “COCTEAU TWINS!” (Alien Love Call), “OFFSPRING!” (Blackout), “DEVO!” (Humanoid / Shake It Up). “CIV!” (Don’t Play) but the joke is that Turnstile take elements from throughout rock and pop and just do what the fuck they want with them. And this genre hopping is all in service to a honed, deft pop sensibility which means you’re never far from a catchy bit, whatever the microgenre being pillaged. It just fucking rocks and I can’t wait to see them live at the end of January!
Listen as Kisakye Kingsamuel Donzilla (aka Don Zilla) opens with an aural tapestry of what appears to be saxophones fucking, with both tender delicacy and honking urgency. Later, get pounded into ecstasy by Entambula and be sorely sad when it finishes. This is an electronic album of pure JOY in sound, of the heaviest, obsidian rhythms, intricate counterpoint and nanoscale filigree. There is not one second of filler from start to finish. Don Zilla’s auteurial authority misses nothing, is everywhere. As an electronic musician myself, this is the kind of album that shames me and makes me question why I’m not pushing things further. Ekizikiza Mubwengula is the soundtrack Tenet should have had.
Across ten songs and some forty-four minutes, Nation Of Language take you on a road trip. The sights we hear are sometimes grand and open, canyons and plateaus. Sometimes we flit in and out of dark woods, temporarily blinded till our eyes adjust to the sun. Musically, I’m reminded of Hidden Cameras but with the synthpop heart of Secession. The music is never grandiose or over-layered, there is always a certain starkness without ceding to coldwave. At their height, they approach the simple beauty of Kraftwerk and, trust me, that’s a name I don’t throw around lightly. A tremendous grower of a record, it will reward time invested.
A powerhouse album, assured but not smug, which is a neat trick to pull off. Adult Mom can go from intimate breathy openers like Passenger to Springsteenian romps like Wisconsin and it sounds totally flowing, totally organic. The bones of it all are Stevie Knipes’ lyrics, stories that can be as universal as isolation barminess to very specific situations only they could parse. And I love that, that’s what drags me in, hooked fish that I am. Look at these fucking lyrics from Adam:
“In the car with Adam on the last day of the tour
We talk about rebuilding our childhoods latches pulled off of the doors
I thought about the first girl I kissed was a girl I wanted to kiss
But not the first girl I wanted to kiss, ya know?”
And the song has me, in that Hello Saferide way, it owns me till it’s over. I wait to breathe again, lest I miss anything.
If you’re a regular here, you know I’ve been a Gojira fan since I first got lost inside Toxic Garbage Island. That was 2008, in 2021 Gojira are, if anything, more political, more angry, more urgent and, in Copout 26 times, more relevant. Fortitude is Gojira flexing their tech prowess only if and when it serves the song, serves the purpose. Other artists should take note. As much as any other Gojira album, this is a manifesto, a call to arms. The ostinato lead line on Another World draws the listener in before the drums open us up to celebration. The Chant is a song I have to ration as it makes me cry too much, it’s too intense, it’s too close. I feel Gojira have lifted a rock and found me underneath it, scuttling around stupidly. How can a metal album be simultaneously so fucking huge and yet so open, so vulnerable?
I tweeted Lady Dan yesterday about her song Dogs, from her debut album, I Am The Prophet. That’s right, this is a bloody DEBUT album. And that puts it in the same class as Tigermilk, Speak And Spell and Three Feet High And Rising.
Like those gems, I Am The Prophet announces the artist: here they are, you’re gonna be fucked-up by these songs, fall in love with them now. When Dogs travels into the slow dimension of its middle bit, it’s like I’m falling backward into a swimming pool, the water closing over me before I grab on to Dozier’s final questions:
“Are the dogs now
Smarter than me?
Are you just returning
To your sloppy seconds?
I’ll bear witness”
The music perfectly frames the lyrics, the pedal steel crying through the countermelodies, the perfect foil to Dozier’s impassioned but never hectoring vocals. And so, her stories unfold, little gifts:
“No romance, no social
I’ve caused enough trouble
I think I’ll stay home
I’m better off alone
I think I’ll stay home
I’m better off alone”
To share our universal frailty, our omnipresent, existential wankness is the greatest gift of art, alongside exposing naked emperors. Lady Dan is fearless in mirroring our fears. This album is a punch on the arm and a rueful grin from a bestie in the same instant as they’re calling you a twat. It is treasure.
It’s been a great year for music and so it’s fitting that Genesis Owusu sits top of the pile with this album.
ANOTHER BLOODY DEBUT ALBUM!
What the hell, artists? Stop being so fucking amazing straight out of the gate!
Yes, it’s the best hip hop album but it’s also the best electronic album, the best alternative album and, I would argue, the best pop album of 2021. Hear me: this is music that should be on your daytime radio, in your glacially-paced Netflix binges. It is catchy as fuck whilst still being surprising lyrically and sonically. Just when you think you can genrebox it up, slap on the packing tape and convenient label, Owusu swerves. Okay, maybe some rappers could approximate I Don’t See Colours but could they do A Song About Fishing? Nope.
The Other Black Dog reminds me of Tricky at his most acerbic before it decants into a pure old-skool Chilly Gonzalez coda. Owusu is a ballet dancer: he makes every move look effortless when musicians know that to be this poised does not happen by accident. One track can sound Jurassic 5 as fuck and then we’re off to Summer Of ’69. Yup. And you know, I love that shit. Surprise me and I’ll giggle like a baby.
Lyrically, there are strong themes of depression and self/other, it reminds me of Orphee but Smiling WIth No Teeth is more Rudy Rucker than Jean Cocteau. This is the first truly transreal album. You find me a better verse in 2021:
“I do this and I do that
On call from sun till moon crack
My phone can never go flat
Who knows where else my work at
I miss this and I miss that
Birthdays, first steps and gift wraps
Hope I don’t miss my first dance
Somebody put me in the circus, I’m the world’s best juggler
Only two hands, pretend that it don’t fuck with my jugular, I’m a new man
While praying that my music will bubble up, this my Truman
Show will rock the boat, I’m still subtler, where’s the movement?
I fight for my existence
Brick wall with my persistence
I hate to say I play Russian Roulette with my resistance
Play it void of all assistance
My life, my love, my business
A goon playing charades inside the face of corporate systems
I sanitised organic ties for my arise in modern times
I can’t deny internal lies in hopes that I’d be televised
I sacrifice a gentle life for goals that leave me terrified
But pray this doesn’t lead to my demise”
Great art finds you, it pokes you with a stick, makes you laugh or cry or throw up. But also the reverse, this is interpellation, this album hails me like I’m a cab. Sometimes, I don’t want it to:
“What you think you gon’ do
When the trigger’s on you, brother?
How you think you gon’ move
When it’s bigger than you, brother?
What you think you gon’ do
When the trigger’s on you, brother?
How you think you gon’ move
When it’s bigger than you?
Please don’t pick that pocket
There’s a face like yours in this locket
And they won’t hesitate to kick me out this
Shopping mall ’cause we’re their target
And they gon’ crawl around this market
To follow y’all ’cause y’all look suspect
That group too big to beg their pardon
And news told me some racist jargon
A black face and black hoodie a political symbol
And the gavel comes down like the crash of a cymbal
Not a thimble, not a pick, but it’s sewn into the brick
Jack be nimble, Jack be quick at the burning of a stick
And the burning of a bush told me that I was great
But the burning of a cross told me to play it safe
‘Cause somehow my actions represent a whole race
It’s hard to move different when your face is our face, ah”
The gamut of this album is huge, the ambition is audacious. But Genesis Owusu delivers.
This is the best album of 2021.