By Rowan Gavin and Kasper Hassett
Yes, it’s been a weird old year, but you don’t need us to tell you that. What you do need – what we all need – is some great music to get you through and give you life. Luckily, 2021 delivered that in spades. The following is a not-at-all-comprehensive list of 21 records that we and other members of the Norwich Radical team loved this year, and think everyone should listen to. They’re not necessarily the best out there; they don’t necessarily all say or do anything particularly radical; but we promise they’re all great.
So, without further ado:
Bachelor: Doomin’ Sun
Few artists channel the energy of a generation like Jay Som (Melina Duterte) and Palehound (Ellen Kempner) do the ambient anxiety of being twenty-something in these turbulent times. Their debut collaboration as Bachelor is rich with conflict and contradiction, yet somehow, for all its discomfort, deeply comforting.
Our highlight: Sick Of Spiraling
The Beths: Auckland, New Zealand, 2020 (live)
Wholesome NZ pop punks the Beths played the show recorded on this album in autumn 2020, after the end of their home country’s lockdown, and it is an absolute joy to listen back to. Featuring a very enthusiastic and endearing crowd, and not one but two extremely cute interludes about their picks for the New Zealand/Aotearoa Bird of the Year competition, this is truly a triumph of a live album.
Our highlight: I’m Not Getting Excited
BUCK-TICK: Go-Go B-T TRAIN
Formed in 1983, BUCK-TICK are credited as proprietors of Japan’s visual kei subculture and 38 years later are showing no signs of slowing down. Their newest EP features two new tracks along with rearrangements of two of their much-loved classics. Ever-daring and ever-shocking, their music and their style evolves with the times while staying true to what makes them unique as a band.
Our highlight: Go-Go B-T TRAIN
David Rovics: Rebel Songs (Free the Imagination)
It has been a busy year for David Rovics, who has released two albums and continues to host his own podcast. Rovics is not afraid to explicitly share radical values, with lyrics that are direct, truthful and speak of real-time real-world injustices and struggles. Some are funny, some are sad, but all of them are fit to bring to the revolution.
Our highlight: Don’t Pay The Rent
La Femme: Paradigmes
La Femme have branched into many genres over the years, always bringing melodic fun to their music. Their newest album mixes pop, camp, and psychedelia in creative and playful ways. In the music video for the album’s titular track, the haunting, synthetic vocals are coupled with a ghostly android cabaret in a way which makes it hard to look away.
Our highlight: Paradigme
Floating Points/Pharoah Sanders: Promises
Sax legend Pharoah Sanders had not released a new recording in over a decade when his interest was piqued by the ambient electronic stylings of Sam Shepherd aka Floating Points. The Pharaoh approached the Shepherd to propose a collaboration in 2019, resulting in 9 mesmerising, surprising movements of orchestral and electronic fusion.
Our highlight: Really this is just one piece of incredible music, but Sanders’ disarmingly alien vocal contribution in Movement 4 is certainly a high point.
Frank Carter and the Rattlesnakes: Sticky
The fun, classic punk tunes on Sticky are fuelled by the anger of a nation under a government behaving badly, pushed by vengeful vocals and the image of lives lived among concrete. There is urban hopelessness everywhere you look, but at least we have bands like these that promise not to be quiet about it.
Our highlight: My Town
Gabriels: Love And Hate In A Different Time/Bloodline
We’re cheating slightly here by including both of the short EPs Gabriels released this year, but trust us, you’ll want to hear both. Let Jacob Lusk’s astounding voice carry you from gospel to classic soul to old-time jazz to R&B on a pair of records that feel at times like they were found in a decades-old archive, and at times like the freshest thing you heard all year.
Our highlight: Blame
Goat Girl: On All Fours
Where their self-titled 2018 debut was restrained, melancholic, angsty, Goat Girl’s new record is delightfully overblown, often joyous, and… well, still pretty angsty. It couldn’t be otherwise, addressing as it does issues from climate change to non-binary erasure; the true brilliance of this album is its righteous, genre-hopping, defiant sound, which elevates the record’s politics to new heights of meaning and groove.
Our highlight: Sad Cowboy
Grace Petrie: Connectivity
In 2016, folk protest singer Grace Petrie toured in support of Jeremy Corbyn, with a catalogue of songs criticising austerity, the Tories and the media. Her newest album carries a more personal touch, with songs ruminating on topics such as the music industry and queer unrequited love, with catchy choruses and clean vocals that make the record a treat for the ear.
Our highlight: We’ve Got an Office in Hackney
Greentea Peng: MAN MADE
Much has been made of the languorous, easy-going vibe of reggae-psych-drum’n’bass fusion brew MAN MADE, but there is also power and principle behind this Bermondsey-born rising star’s debut full-length. Better to hear Peng in her own words than read her in ours – as she says, “We don’t wanna chat until my people free”.
Our highlight: Free My People
Joy Crookes: Skin
A newcomer to the music scene, Joy Crookes brings South London to life in her first album, Skin. The specificity in her lyrics is immersive, bringing nostalgia for a youth lived among the tower blocks in songs like ‘19th Floor’. Crookes’ music is tranquil, conversational, and flows forth. It is music for reflective moments and celebration.
Our highlight: When You Were Mine
Kælan Mikla: Undir Köldum Norðurljósum
Synth-punk trio Kælan Mikla have captivated listeners around the world with a sense of witchy and ethereal magic, and their newest release is no exception. In music videos, their aesthetics complement breathtaking Icelandic backdrops while the dark enchantment of their music intrigues and delights. Featuring deep basslines, chilling vocals and even wistful flute melodies in songs like ‘Stormurinn’, their fourth album, Undir Köldum Norðurljósum (Under the Cold Northern Lights), is testament to the band’s ever-evolving talent.
Our highlight: Sólstöður
Little Simz: Sometimes I Might Be Introvert
The fourth studio album from UK hip hop’s most unique voice, Sometimes I Might Be Introvert sees Simz return to more experimental, conceptual work, after her stellar take on the classic hip hop album in 2019’s GREY Area. This is undoubtedly a seminal record, as impressive and significant as its grand orchestral opening suggests. Listen close – as always with Simz, every word is worth your attention.
Our highlight: Woman
Maya Law: Hitchhiking
Norwich’s own Maya Law has been honing her insightful songwriting and tender, cutting vocal delivery on the city gig circuit for a few years now. Of her recordings, this short EP comes the closest yet to capturing the breathtaking experience of seeing her play live. If you’re Norwich-based, keep an eye out for her – any show with Law on the bill is worth your pennies.
Our highlight: Say It Ain’t So
Måneskin: Teatro d’ira – Vol I
Måneskin turned heads this year when they bestowed raw, energetic rock upon the typically pop-centric Eurovision Song Contest, winning with ‘ZITTI E BUONI’. They are a band that screams of rebellion, freedom and subverting expectations, and they have been vocal in support of progressive causes.
Our highlight: ZITTI E BUONI
Pom Poko: Cheater
Pom Poko are named for the Studio Ghibli film about shapeshifting racoons, and on first impression their music is just as perplexing. This is guitar pop played with scant regard for the rhythmic, structural, or sartorial norms of the genre – but get past the initial dissonance, and the rewards are extraordinary, in every sense. And don’t miss their Norwich Arts Centre show on Feb 3rd!
Our highlight: Like A Lady
Remi Wolf: Juno
The debut album from California’s most energetic new pop icon, Juno is a surreal, queer, colourful, squishy, surprising and deeply compelling future-pop masterpiece. Completely weird, utterly brilliant – every track a banger.
Our highlight: Sexy Villain
Rival Consoles: Overflow
The best electronica is movement and feeling given pure sonic form. Leicester’s Ryan Lee West aka Rival Consoles is up there with pioneers of the genre like Nils Frahm and Jon Hopkins, creating some truly awe-inspiring soundscapes that flicker between entrancing minimalism and overblown devastation. This record, consisting of the soundtrack to Alexander Whitley’s dance production of the same name, is some of his finest work.
Our highlight: Pulses Of Information
Self Esteem: Prioritise Pleasure
Self Esteem is the aptly named solo project of Rebecca Lucy Taylor, formerly of Slow Club, and Prioritise Pleasure is her brazen, brilliant manifesto of self-care, cold fury, and radical feminist love. Taylor rightly pulls no punches as she sings of relationship collapse, sexual liberation, male violence and more in a strikingly versatile range of vocal styles. Excellent; necessary.
Our highlight: I Do This All The Time
She Drew The Gun: Behave Myself
Louisa Roach and her band of psych-pop rebels marched onto the UK scene in ‘16 with their unashamedly heartfelt and political debut Memories of Another Future. 5 years into that future, the band’s unique, arresting style of feminist protest music has only gotten more energetic, more focused, and more angry. Essential listening for those who want to understand the political realities of modern Britain.
Our highlight: Class War – How Much
There we are! 21 great records to take with us as we leave 2021 behind. We hope you find something in this list to enjoy as we tick over into 2022 and open ourselves up to new music, new entertainment, and hopefully better news.
Featured image adapted from BRRT via Pixabay
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