FIFTY3 FRIDAYS: BYE, BYE 2021
Merlin is of course less troubled by the passing of another year than we humans. He doesn't mind if he doesn't make the scene. He's got a daytime job*; he's doing alright - two points if you got the lyric reference there. However, for many of us I guess it won’t be too difficult to say goodbye to 2021, a number that once seemed to have a nice futuristic ring to it which turned out to be a rather hollow, dystopian one.
* aka sleeping
But let’s not go there and instead focus on the stream of fine new music that found its way through the political and pandemic chaos of 2021. I’ve said before that I have a perpetual dilemma about the merits of ranking music so when it comes to looking back over a year in which I’ve covered around 300 acts, there are going to be casualties. There were countless splendid singles plus marvellous EPs from the likes of The Harriets, Nadia Sheikh, Florie Namir, The Happy Somethings, Little Majorette and Imogen among many more. However, needing something to hang this year-end piece on, I settled on the album – still the jewel in most wannabe crowns.
Here are just 10 of those who released a full album in 2021 who stood out for me, with the rider that I felt everyone I wrote about this year had great merit or otherwise I wouldn’t have put finger to keyboard about them. And, as they say on TV, in no particular order…
SHOW ME HOW YOU DISAPPEAR
I love the Lynchian videos of LA’s Jilian Medford, aka IAN SWEET, whose brilliant album Show Me How You Disappear materialised in March following an impressive string of preview singles including this one, “Drink The Lake”. In the accompanying, self-directed video, Jilian floats disturbingly though serenely amid scenes of apprentice funeral directors re-enacting Lord of the Flies, while delivering music with the power to heal.
THE WEATHER STATION
It’s a rare thing when my own choices mirror those in the mainstream so I was delighted that Uncut magazine bestowed ‘Album of the Year’ on Ignorance by The Weather Station. Tamara Lindeman’s songs uniquely pitch the break-up on both a personal and a societal level, infusing relationship failings with an overriding sense of the damage being done to nature and through it to society at large. Here in “Parking Lot” she is giving flight to some of those conflicting emotions.
THE GHOST OF HELAGS
WE CAME FROM THE STARS
The Berlin-based dark synthpop duo of Swedish producer Alex Ericson and German-born vocalist, Teresa Woischiski, The Ghost of Helags, released its debut album, We Came From The Stars, in March. Much of the record is inspired by travel from the duo’s chilly Berlin centre, taking in Japanese skies to Italian sunsets. The music has a fittingly innate ability to transport the listener as evidenced by “Chemistry”, a bewitching introduction to the band’s style.
VIVIAN LEVA & RILEY CALCAGNO
VIVIAN LEVA & RILEY CALCAGNO
Portland, Oregon roots duo Vivian Leva & Riley Calcagno also dropped its self-titled album in March. The young pair bring a rare quality to their music, combining old time and classic country sensibilities with bittersweet reflections on modern times. Trading verses here in “Love and Chains” and coming together in flawless harmony, they point the way to a brighter, kinder future as they reflect on the setting of the sun and enjoying the moment for what it is.
THE YEAR YOU’LL NEVER GET BACK
The Year You’ll Never Get Back may seem an appropriate title for an album out following a year of pandemic. Released in April by Paper Anthem, the musical vehicle of Fayetteville, Arkansas singer and songwriter Joseph Hitchcock, the record actually has a much longer timeline. Musically expansive but retaining a real intimacy, it has a breadth of content that makes it nigh impossible to pick out one song. I can though never tire of hearing Joseph’s treatise on the power of sleep, “Dreamweaver”.
You can find an exclusive commentary on Fifty3.net from Joseph on aspects of the individual songs that makes a great companion to an exceptional record. He has now moved to the UK so we hope to hear much more from him in 2022.
THE CRAYON SET
Another record with absolutely no dip in quality from start to finish is Downer Disco, the third studio album in eight years from Dublin-based five-piece, The Crayon Set. The record mixes “sadness with sunshine”; its electronic elements nod a little towards dance music while its melodies are up there with the very best in alt-pop. “Moment”, from the LP, is a deceptively sweet, brisk song, despite a theme referencing mild depression. Redemption comes through not giving up on life making the song’s light and airy synth-pop tones entirely fit for purpose.
GREENGATES WATER SOLUTIONS
Greengates Water Solutions may sound straight outta Checkatrade but Leeds-based one-man band Mike Carroll has first dibs on it as the vehicle for his musical endeavours. I was impressed when learning that he built his own studio breeze block by breeze block and capped it by releasing an album entitled 4415, his clock-in number when he worked for Sainsbury's at Greengates, Bradford. This song, “Tibs”, written in tribute to his girlfriend Emma’s ‘barely tangible texts’ has more than its fair share of dynamics and unexpected melodic twists.
YOU SIGNED UP FOR THIS
Maisie Peters started out writing songs in her early teens and then busking in her home town of Brighton as a 15-year-old. Six years on and she released her debut album, You Signed Up For This, in August, with the not inconsiderable support of one Ed Sheeran and his Gingerbread Man record label. The title track opens with the best line of 2021 – “I am 20 and probably upset right now” – while the sharp and sassy “Psycho” is quite possibly the catchiest song of the year.
ROXANNE DE BASTION
YOU AND ME, WE ARE THE SAME
Stardom seems to sit so well with the impossibly romantic birth name of singer-songwriter Roxanne De Bastion. She currently lives in London but was raised between the West Midlands and Berlin where her late father worked as a musician. 2021 saw the release of her second album, You And Me, We Are The Same. While “Ordinary Love” sits midway in the 10-track record, much of which carries echoes of her close daughter – father relationship, this one is specifically an ode to joy.
CURSE OF LONO
PEOPLE IN CARS
Felix Bechtolsheimer, aka Curse Of Lono, is a singer-songwriter who in the space of 12 months lost his father, his uncle and a former partner; the last named remotely to a drugs overdose. His recently released third album under the Curse of Lono aegis, People In Cars, finds him exorcising many ghosts through song; though twenty years clean, past drug addiction clearly weighed heavily on his mind and memories of drugs, death, danger and depression course through the record. “Think I'm Alright Now” sees him coming out the other side with a heart-warming spirit fully intact.
THE 12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS
I have the unbridled enthusiasm of marvellous Midlands mavericks, The Happy Somethings, to thank for The 12 Days of Christmas. After the trio’s kind daily endorsement on Twitter for my Fifty3Fridays 2021 Advent Calendar of great songs, I decided to keep the idea of a track a day going for another twelve. Once again, this will culminate in a full Spotify playlist after we reach 5 January.
Friday being the 7th Day of Christmas I posted something akin to swans a-swimming when dusting off “I Won’t Follow” by the short-lived supergroup of Brooklyn-based singer-songwriters Bess Rogers, Hannah Winkler and Lelia Broussard who, along with drummer Zach Jones, traded as Secret Someones. As a bonus track, this is “Headfirst”, also from the band’s eponymous 2015 debut LP. I defy you to dislodge this one from your psyche after a couple of spins. Sadly, Secret Someones went on ‘indefinite hiatus’ in January 2016. You can find them each back doing their solo things but a reunion in 2022 definitely would be one for the wish list.