2021. Yet another tenuous year for obvious reasons.
We could spend time on our soapbox putting the worlds to right. The pandemic. The Tory government that couldn’t lie straight in bed. Or an ineffective opposition who has failed to land a glove on the blatantly incompetent Boris Johnson and his band of equally inept minions.
But we won’t.
We’ve used Sun 13 as a virtual haven to escape the everyday rigours and misery that seemingly never lets up. Make of that what you will, however we all having different coping mechanisms and this is our way. By doing so, we aim to share something positive in the face of adversity.
And with that, we bring you our Top 50 Albums of 2021.
The process of choosing 50 albums is something that starts on the first day of every year. There are many notable omissions, of course, and while we did contemplate an ‘Honourable Mentions’ piece, the term ‘overkill’ quickly sprang to mind. So for those familiar with the site, it’s as you were.
Granted, a lot of artists don’t care about lists. It’s a valid argument, for art is no sport, after all. However, the aim of our Top 50 is for readers to discover something new. Something that won’t necessarily end up on a swathe of other publications’ end of year lists. Whether we achieve that or not will be a matter of opinion.
And on the subject of discovering something new, as an independent DIY online publication who do this for the love of music and nothing more, we are duty bound to highlight the current climate surrounding the arts. Quite frankly, it’s as dire as it’s ever been. One only has to look at the current crisis surrounding vinyl production (put emphatically by our inaugural Sun 13 Album of the Year winner, Emil Amos of Holy Sons).
With the absurd waiting times at the pressing plants, along with the sporadic opportunities for touring both local and abroad due to the pandemic, many artists are at the mercy of streaming services and their greedy business models which, in effect, sees the great majority being paid next to fuck all (yes, the irony is not lost with the Spotify links below, but perhaps that’s an argument for another day).
Taking the current plight into consideration, if some of the below releases take your fancy, please head over to Bandcamp or visit your local independent record shop and dip into the pocket.
We want to continue to hear the best music from whom we consider the finest artists out there. We want to continue to write about these artists and their new releases, and while capitalism’s grip becomes ever tighter, a little help to artists is better than nothing at all.
So with this in mind, again, we urge you to support these artists by paying what you can.
After last year’s breakthrough album, Forever, Madeline Johnston returns with her Midwife project in 2021, releasing the follow-up, Luminol. Forever stole a lot of hearts at the time of its release, however with Luminol, it very much feels as though Johnston has risen above the waves of yesteryear.
The New Mexico-based artist creates the kind of pastoral dream metal that possesses an atmosphere so dark that it feels like you’re been summoned by a ghost.
From the album’s artwork, right down it every inch of sound, brooding gothic vibes transform into some form of dirge-y, slowcore séance. Luminol confirms that Midwife is quickly carving out her own niche within the metal community.
Allen Moore: Lived A Devil
Chicago’s Allen Moore returns with his follow-up to 2019’s Solar Church, in Lived A Devil.
Inspired by African-American culture and soul records, Lived A Devil contains the kind of mind-bending hypnotic textures that a brain surgeon would probably indulge before donning the apron and getting to work.
With oscillating loops and samples put through a meat grinder, the results are a swathe of fever-dream ambient soundscapes. The influences Moore employs don’t feel as though they attributed to any particular musical touchstone but to life in itself, making Lived A Devil a kind of dehumanising experience.
It could be portrayed as cinematic as much as it could meditative. It’s a snapshot from the confusion we call life, with Allen Moore producing some of the most interesting sounds and ideas in 2021.
Stuart Cook: Piano at 51°40’49.6″N 2°14’09.2
Waxing Crescent Records
Following Capac’s “beyond music” voyages, in particular last year’s After Lights Out with Tom Harding, Bristol’s Stuart Cook grabbed our attention last month with his collaboration with fellow Capac member, Matt Parker, with their debut album, Parallel Vectors.
In between these releases, last year whilst visiting a play park with his children, Cook found an abandoned piano close by. Inspired by the piano’s appearance and sound, Cook decided to play on it, with the ensuing recordings ending up on Piano at 51°40’49.6″N 2°14’09.2.
Piano 51°40’49.6″N 2°14’09.2 is an expansion on Cook’s appetite for field recordings and modular synthesis. Here, Cook produces sounds akin to a hybrid machine careering through space at blinding speed. The soundscapes elastic, manoeuvring into odd shapes and sizes, and providing the sharpest reflections. Alongside meticulous abstract minimalism, Cook creates something that stands completely on its own.
XIMES: POLYHEX 2: Hallelujah Anyway
XIMES is the project of Cornwall-based artist, David Wurth, who has also gone under the moniker, Deathbird Stories, as well as running the experimental label, Dub Cthonic.
POLYHEX 2: Hallelujah Anyway embodies the warmth of Wurth’s native Cornwell, consisting of two lengthy compositions that sweat with spatial drones.
Clocking in at over 70 minutes, POLYHEX 2: Hallelujah Anyway is an ethereal journey to get lost in, exploding across the canvass in what is folk-laden jazz-inspired drone. It’s a world Wurth completely thrives in and with this latest release, he is confirmed as the latest UK underground pioneer in experimental music.
Jeff Parker: Forfolks
There’s little doubt that Jeff Parker’s subtle intricacies underpin the incongruous framework of Tortoise, and on Forfolks that aesthetic really shines through. An album a little too easy on the ear to be classified as purely experimental, yet too left-of-centre to be described as conventional, Forfolks sees Parker blurring the lines and parameters with something that is completely his own.
Parker shape-shifts through far-out places, skirting the fringes of jazz, blues and hip-hop, using these influences in complex ways by creating multi-layered panoramic sounds.
Bruce Springsteen once said that his aim was to “make the guitar talk”. On Forfolks, Parker does that, too, but in a tone and language that is truly his own.
Matt Sweeney & Bonnie ‘Prince Billy: Superwolves
Domino Recording Co.
Matt Sweeney and Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy resuming their alliance has been a long time coming. After the pair’s cult debut, Superwolf, 16 years on and it does seem like a stretch to suggest that Superwolves is somewhat of a companion piece, but that’s exactly what it feels like.
The songwriting not so much showcases two artists at ease, but the songs on Superwolves do hold a revitalised intimacy and refined quality.
The only real surprise is that Superwolves took so long. That’s life, though, as Sweeney and Will Oldham know only too well; here their worlds are merged where we can all garner something worthy from it.
Gnod: La Mort Du Sens
La Mort Du Sens is Gnod at their most strident. The percussive blasts and bass assaults are immediate. Zonal.
Like with Just Say No…, on the whole, Gnod deliver their aggravations and annoyances in short sharp bursts, clocking in at just under 32 minutes. Dishevelled and downtrodden, this is where Gnod produce their finest work and La Mort Du Sens is certainly that.
With wrecking ball intensity, after La Mort Du Sens, we emerge from Gnod’s world knowing that we all need a band like this in our lives at some point. And that point is right now.
Black Tempel Pyrämid: Infinite Tombs
Cruel Nature Records
Black Tempel Pyrämid is the experimental collective from Fort Collins, Colorado, spearheaded by one, Patrick R. Pärk.
Infinite Tombs is the Pärk‘s latest release and eighth in 12 months. Sure, not Matt Christensen standards, however Black Tempel Pyrämid are yet another artist who have crushed the boundaries of the blow-ins, the middlemen, and the johnny-come-lateltys, by recording music and getting it the fuck out there.
It’s the range of inventiveness that makes Infinite Tombs so captivating. To make music as intense and consistent as Pärk has done over the COVID pandemic may just be one of the greatest triumphs to emerge from underground music.
Vancouver’s loscil (a.k.a. Scott Morgan) has spent years quietly going about his business as one of the most unassuming, underrated producers on the planet.
While Clara quite literally expands on the ideas loscil has spent the last two decades harnessing and refining, it’s the longest oeuvre we’ve heard from the producer for some time.
Clara is something that sounds so simplified on the surface, but exploring beyond that and it’s clear that Morgan possesses a unique proficiency where he leaves no stone unturned.
Tropical Fuck Storm: Deep States
Joyful Noise Recordings
The devilish miscreants known as Tropical Fuck Storm are back with their third album, Deep States.
In true fashion, trying to pierce a Tropical Fuck Storm record is like trying to breach Fort Knox. The proto-rock behemoth don’t flinch on Deep States, upholding their unique creative principles. There’s a lot going on, with TFS once again resetting within a reset (take that Low!)
So while there isn’t a great deal to report and we’re sounding about as vague as a politician, just celebrate the fact that there’s a new release from Australia’s most innovative purveyors of rock music. Like always, it’ll sink into the bones eventually, so, in essence, it’s business as usual in the TFS camp.
David Colohan: Darling Point
Cruel Nature Records
Inspired by events in 2001 where he lived under the stars in New South Wales along the banks of the Murrumbidgee River, David Colohan carves out one of the year’s most beautiful pieces of ambient music with Darling Point.
The Dublin producer’s output is quite simply prolific (not even including his other project, United Bible Studies). His Bandcamp oeuvre is one rabbit hole many need to go down at some point.
With Darling Point, it’s arguably his finest yet, with rich textures that float and illuminate the night sky. While these compositions seem designed for open spaces, they are just as much something that feel tailor-made for cathedrals.
Divide And Dissolve: Gas Lit
Melbourne-based Divide And Dissolve (Takiaya Reed – saxophone, guitar, live effects, and Sylvie Nehill – drums, live effects) showcase a sonic framework that’s not been heard from Australian shores in quite some time with Gas Lit.
With fuel to burn, on Gas Lit, Divide And Dissolve creates a tapestry that contains bowel-twitching noise, rumbling feedback and hostile saxophone. They’ve bastardised the notion of classical composition through the grimy corridors of punk.
To understand its true urgency, it’s a front-to-back concern in every sense. Each composition bleeds into the next, forming a collage of jarring, restless uproar.
Light Conductor: Sequence Two
Light Conductor, the collaboration between long time friends, Jace Lasek (The Besnard Lakes) and Stephen Ramsay (Young Galaxy) return with their sophomore release, Sequence Two.
Sequence Two is full of intense, psychedelic colours that are bottled up and launched at the wall. The end result is a wildly stunning mural, resembling something with true vision and vibrancy. Furthermore, Light Conductor provide the kind of compositions that impart optimism.
There will always be releases that fly out of left field and with Sequence Two, Light Conductor have provided just that. Don’t sleep on this. Life’s too short.
Simm: Too Late to Dream
After a seven year absence, Eraldo Bernocchi reboots his Simm project with Too Late to Dream.
Having worked with the likes of with Robin Guthrie, Harold Budd, Bill Laswell and Mick Harris, the London-based Italian artist enlists grime-legend, Flowdan to cut through his post-industrial soundscapes that feel like they rumble through the icy streets of Britain’s capital.
Bernocchi and Flowdan form a formidable partnership on Too Late to Dream. Granted, it’s not a world away from the cold fractured sounds that The Bug produced earlier this year with Fire. But for those hungry for more Flowdan, alongside the return of Simm we can most certainly consider this an early festive gift.
P.M. Tummala: Abstractions in Meera
Using a sampler, synthesizers, vibraphone, electric piano, and tape, Chicago-based artists, P.M. Tumulla leans on influences of the past – his inspirations not limited to Indian visual artists and architects such as Raza, Gaitonde and Doshi, as well as the Hindustani, Carnatic, and Tollywood / Bollywood.
There’s no one combining the kind of sounds and influences that Tummala does. Firstly with Brindavan Mon Amour, now with Abstractions in Meera, this is beyond the meditative ideology which has become widespread within the world of experimentation.
Abstractions in Meera is a spiritual journey. One where we can escape the rigours of everyday life and the stresses involved with it. Tummala captures something truly freeing with these recordings.
Gaffa Bandana: Fraught in Waves
Gaffa Banda is the collaboration between Gill Dread (Bruxa Maria) and Brighton’s Jennie Howell (SO3EK, Sleeping Creatures), with duo combining for their debut, Fraught in Waves.
Produced by Tim Cedar of Part Chimp, Gaffa Bandana’s Fraught in Waves carries the ruthless sonic commotion that its title suggests. In an emphatic, bruising encounter, Gaffa Banda pummel with uninhibited rage in what is one of the most exciting collaborations to emerge from the U.K. punk scene this year.
With the combustible wrath of Fraught in Waves, Gaffa Bandana delivered the first visceral message of 2021.
Damon & Naomi: A Sky Record
Since the end of Galaxie 500, Cambridge-based couple Damon Krukowski and Naomi Yang have embarked on an ethereal journey that has spawned landmark releases such as More Sad Hits (1992), The Wondrous World of Damon & Naomi (1995), and many others.
A Sky Record is filled with Yang’s contemplative lyricism and Krukowski distinct melodies, with Michio Kurihara’s gorgeous dreamscapes breathing new life into these songs.
A Sky Record is not only the record that best defines what most of us have experienced during the pandemic. After thirty years of making music together, Damon & Naomi have produced their best record yet.
Claire Cronin: Bloodless
Claire Cronin makes music that provides the kind of backdrop for bars littered with lonely, broken-hearted idlers. Cronin’s voice always feels close, but not visible. Like hearing a whisper through thick blankets of fog.
With assistance from her husband and violist, Ezra Buchla, Cronin doesn’t let up with the trepidation on Bloodless – a subliminal journey where she once again delivers a string of cold-eyed laments that emit the aroma of death.
Lyrically haunting, sonically gaunt and beautifully cinematic, Bloodless is the kind of record that cuts straight through the bone.
The Still: Got It
No one feathers the ivories like Chris Abrahams. His work with The Necks is prolific and alongside drummer, Steve Heather, bassist, Derek Shirley, and guitarist, Rico Lee, Abrahams’ Berlin-based project, The Still, focuses on the minimalistic aspects rather than the swelling instrumentation of the Australian luminaries.
While the band’s 2016 self-titled debut was perhaps more immediate in sound, The Still’s follow-up, Got It, poses as the reserved younger sibling. There’s nothing gaudy about Got It – in fact, its modesty is its most attractive quality.
With each artist involved touching on their default positions of long-form and improvisation, on Got It The Still condense the chaos, finding beauty in brevity through these five compositions.
Kulk: We Spare Nothing
Comprising of Thom Longdin (guitars / vocals) and Jade-Ashleigh Squires (drums / synthesiser), Kulk are like the circuit-breaker that make a shit day suddenly turn out okay.
The world inhabited by the Melvins calls for bands like Kulk, but aesthetically, the Suffolk natives have enough scope to project their own hellish slabs of fury. Which is exactly what Kulk’s sophomore album, We Spare Nothing, is.
For those who thought Pigs X 7 glammed up their sound too much on Viscerals, fear not. With We Spare Nothing, Kulk have mollified your anger and disappointment in the best possible fashion.
Eleventh Dream Day: Since Grazed
Comedy Minus One
Eleventh Dream Day incite the type of racket that loosens railway sleepers. Six years on from their last record, Works For Tomorrow, the ’Dream Day pop up with Since Grazed; a surprise release that dropped out of the sky. It’s quite typical of this rock behemoth.
“The brightest star you can see is not always a sign,” sings Rizzo in his bar-and- grill brogue on Just Got Home (In Time to Say Goodbye). This line probably encapsulates Since Grazed the best.
While the raucous blasts of high-watermarks, Prairie School Freakout, and El Moodio, may be sparse, Eleventh Dream Day are a band moving into a different era. And in doing so, they sound more comfortable than ever.
Fading Tapes: Eastern Red Coast
Founded in 2014, Fading Tapes are duo, Krzysztof Siwkowski (guitar), and Marcin Lasek (percussion).
Their third album in 2021, Eastern Red Coast caps off some year for the Polish experimentalists. We were bowled over by Cartographer and didn’t think Fading Tapes could better it, but with better it they have right here.
Easter Red Coast combines the creeping minimalism of Cartographer and the hypnotic psychedelia of Golden Papaya. Not many experimental artists have released three albums as consistently grand as Fading Tapes in what has been one of the finest discoveries in 2021.
Deafheaven: Infinite Granite
Historically, the metal community may not be the hardest to offend, however Deafheaven are outliers in this particular pantheon. Castigated as hipster metal by the lifers, and too intense for snivelling hipsters, Deafheaven have always manoeuvred between the lines of beauty and brutality, despite merging the two so majestically throughout their previous works.
With Infinite Granite, Deafheaven may well have proven that annihilation and despair can be just as stunning via gliding melodies as opposed to sheer malevolent force.
A band forever marginalised, however Infinite Granite sees Deafheaven rewriting their own script.
Matt Christensen: Constant Green
It’s been some year for Zelienople singer, Matt Christensen. Via Bandcamp, in 2021 Christensen has released as many albums as we’ve had hot dinners.
On Constant Green, Christensen reaches for simplicity, and – like all of his solo output in 2021 – continues the kind of purple patch most artists could only dream of.
Inspired by AM radio and a sense of space and freedom, Constant Green is yet another triumph for one of the world’s most underrated songwriters. It’s not a stretch to suggest that the songs on Constant Green carry a similar emotional intensity to the likes of Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska.
Mess Esque: Mess Esque
Comprising of Brisbane-based artist, Helen Franzmann (also of McKisko), and Melbourne’s Mick Turner (Dirty Three), the pair form a mesmeric alliance, continuing their splendid run of form in 2021 with their second album, Mess Esque.
There’s an unbridled telepathy here, with the songs from Mess Esque drifting through hallways like a gentle breeze, reaching the corners of previously unoccupied rooms. It’s the kind of album that finds beauty in the most secluded places.
Mess Esque is a soundtrack for the sunset. A balladeering emotional force that imbues new hope.
Charlie Butler: Darmok
Reading artist, Charlie Butler (who also releases music under the Chaos Emeralds moniker whose new album, Crawling from the Wreckage was released at the beginning of this month), unleashes fizzy slabs of bowel-twitching drone on the Star-Trek-inspired album, Darmok.
Deconstructing shoegaze and doom, with these four compositions, Butler releases something quite remarkable.
Whilst many others in the past have tried to commit these ideas to tape, none have done it better than Butler. Darmok is a surging wall-to-wall monolithic offering of noise. It’s one of the great surprises at the back end of 2021.
Richard Dawson & Circle: Henki
Domino Recording Co.
Geordie mastermind, Richard Dawson, possesses a mental nimbleness like no other, interconnecting a slew of genres with the kind of themes one spends years researching in libraries and burning the midnight oil.
Alongside Finnish metal ensemble, Circle, with Henki Dawson and the genre-hopping odyssey produce something that goes beyond the limits either has previously reached.
On Henki – a hypnotic overlap of folk, pop, and metal – whether a seamless transition, or a case of Circle forcing his hand, make no mistake about it – this is Richard Dawson version 2.0. This is Richard Dawson for the family and, believe it or not, it actually works.
Odd Beholder: Sunny Bay
Odd Beholder is the project of Zürich-based musician, Daniela Weinmann.
Following 2018’s All Reality Is Virtual, the kind of intelligent pop music that crosses over into the worlds of experimentation, Weinmann brings us follow-up LP, Sunny Bay – one of the roughest pop diamonds in 2021.
Sunny Bay’s undercurrents of darkness and glittery minimalism are what separates Weinmann’s Odd Beholder project from most other pop artists out there today. For those enamoured in the world of HVOB, here you will find a beautiful alternative.
When showcasing artistic crossovers or slamming down that reset button, many artists toss the guitars aside for the weird and wonderful world of electronica and experimentation. Not Moin, who with their debut LP, Moot!, have gone the other way in what is one of the most invigorating guitar-based albums of the year.
With bruising chord sequences that echo Fugazi and the trailblazing mind fuckery of Polvo, generally with such a vicious one-two punch you’d arrive at Unwound. But it’s 2021, and Moin are here to not only fill the vacuum but bust the seal on it, leaving us all in a dusty wake.
Post-rock or not, Moot! is undoubtedly a record inspired by escapism. Not in its purest sense, but here Moin switch off the communications and go off-grid, blissfully ignorant to the outer-world surroundings.
Kowloon Walled City: Piecework
Kowloon Walled City release their fourth album and first since 2015’s Grievances, in Piecework.
With off-kilter timing signatures and curling riffs that penetrate and rest under your skin, from the outset, Kowloon Walled City dispense a slow-motion sludge-like aesthetic. Essentially, it could be heralded as some new form of alt-metal for the bruised and downtrodden.
Whilst there are notable acknowledgements to the past, on Piecework, Kowloon Walled City are never fully immersed in it. The result is a band not sounding like anyone other than themselves, with Piecework being as vital as anything the band has produced.
New Bums: Last Time I Saw Grace
Six Organs Of Admittance’s Ben Chasny and Sky Green Leopards’ Donovan Quinn return with their long-awaited follow-up from 2014’s Voices In a Rented Room with Last Time I Saw Grace.
And it’s what we’ve come to expect from this fantastic collaboration. Stripped-back, no-nonsense campfire laments with a fair old dose of humour.
Following Voices In a Rented Room, Last Time I Saw Grace is outlaw country at its finest. The telepathy between Chasny and Quinn makes for something truly effortless here. One of the most underrated albums in 2021, this, my friends, is fun for all the family.
The Reds, Pinks and Purples: Uncommon Weather
With The Reds, Pinks and Purples, Glenn Donaldson unashamedly pays homage to the great Sarah Records with a bit of Flying Nun reverence thrown in for good measure.
One half of the equally beautiful Sky Green Leopards, The Reds, Pink and Purples’ latest album, Uncommon Weather, is a seamless, blissful dose of jangle-pop.
Despite the dark themes that underpin Uncommon Weather, like Belle and Sebastian in their heyday, Donaldson pits these anxious-riddled subjects against soundscapes that make you smile all day long. In these current times, I couldn’t think of a better time to release something like Uncommon Weather. An album that is, quite frankly, just bloody lovely.
Iron Lung Records
Backed by a razor-sharp rhythm section and exploding guitars that illuminate the night sky, Slant is fronted by Yeji (in pure punk fashion, we only know the forenames of each band member). This doesn’t detract from the simple fact that she gives one of the finest performances of 2021 on the band’s debut long-player, 1집.
1집 is an example of a band leaving nothing behind, dispensing the kind of angst that has – over the past two years – gone MIA, drowned out by a plethora of aggy psych Oh Sees imitators. Yes, there has been anger, but none of it has hit the heights of what Slant reach here.
You won’t experience a better 16 minutes all year. It’s the kind of glorious maelstrom where you can escape from all your bullshit worries in the world and become truly immersed in Slant’s instead.
Emma Ruth Rundle: Engine of Hell
November is the perfect month to welcome in Emma Ruth Rundle’s Engine of Hell; undoubtedly her most intimate and darkest record yet. As the nights pull in and we are pushed closer to the dark pits of winter, Engine of Hell revels in the iron-grey skies.
Rundle is one of the most important voices in alternative metal today. Having spent the last decade putting her own spin on the origins of grunge and folk, amalgamating both through the smudged lens of metal and doom, Engine of Hell sees Rundle go against her instincts of the past, trading in brawn for balladry.
Here we see an artist on a journey through the marshlands of despair and with Engine of Hell, Rundle has never sounded so explicit in parting with pain, capturing the heaviness of her previous albums in a different way.
Six Organs Of Admittance: The Veiled Sea
Three Lobed Recordings
An artist dispensing vital artistic musings with blinding speed, while many have associated the punk troubadour with the freak-folk scene of the early ’00s, Ben Chasny’s artistic deeds will never be tied down to any styles or scenes.
The only thing we can be sure of is that Six Organs Of Admittance will never write the same album twice. And with that we arrive at The Veiled Sea. Chasny’s latest mind-bending conception.
While providing yet another new tone of outlier splendour, with The Veiled Sea Chasny’s range continues to expand beyond those lonely orbits he so often references.
Sleaford Mods: Spare Ribs
Sonically, Spare Ribs sees the Sleaford Mods finding new ways to dispense their fire and brimstone missives.
A decade ago, terms like hypnotic and heartfelt would have been laughed at when describing Sleaford Mods, but there’s truth to it in 2021. While the band’s aggressive exterior of the past isn’t replicated, that doesn’t mean this is a band growing old gracefully. That would imply a certain contentedness and the day Sleaford Mods ever found themselves in this milieu, then they would be deemed about as relevant as the Gallaghers.
Spare Ribs is another intoxicating encounter that encapsulates a band finding new ways to unleash their rampant flair.
Fly Pan Am: Frontera
Fly Pan Am returned in 2021 with their sixth album, Frontera – a live score that the band has chiselled out in collaboration with Dana Gingras and her Montréal-based dance cast, Animals Of Distinction.
During their 23 year reign, on Frontera we are gifted with some of the most exciting compositions Fly Pan Am have given us so far.
While some may have suggested that Fly Pan Am’s comeback record, 2019’s C’est ça, was somewhat patchy, it may have been a case of a band shaking off the rust. There’s not a speck of that throughout Frontera – an album that sees the band completely firing on all cylinders. The Canadian collective have found their niche and with it they really haven’t sounded better.
The Besnard Lakes: …Are the Last of the Great Thunderstorm Warnings
Full Time Hobby/Fat Cat/Flemish Eye
Ending their longstanding partnership with label, Jagjaguwar, The Besnard Lakes band have found a new stable in Full Time Hobby / Fat Cat / Flemish Eye to release …Are the Last of the Great Thunderstorm Warnings.
This release sees The Besnard Lakes injecting new ideas to accompany their traditional towering interludes and swarming maelstroms that have always dismantled the ideological framework of psychedelia.
It’s The Besnard Lakes’ most heartfelt release yet. Tackling the weighty themes of loss, there’s a reflective, immersive spirit in the songs from …Are the Last of the Great Thunderstorm Warnings. It’s The Besnard Lakes morphing into a new beast.
Lingua Ignota: SINNER GET READY
“Do you want to be in hell with me,” sings Kristin Hayter (known to us as Lingua Ignota), during the menacing lament that is PENNSYLVANIA FURNACE – the highlight of SINNER GET READY.
While Ignota’s previous LP, CALIGULA, was a barbed net of destruction exploding with frightening malevolence about themes of abuse, on SINNER GET READY, the vocalist uses rural Pennsylvania, a community firmly entrenched in Christian mythology, as an accelerant to peddle her pain.
There’s a fierce emptiness to Ignota’s compositions, which makes it all the more fascinating as to how she keeps delivering this kind of art. Oozing like a weeping wound, with SINNER GET READY, Ignota delivers these menacing accounts with boundless prestige.
Chris Corsano & Bill Orcutt: Made Out of Sound
Like the majority of collaboration albums over the past 12 months, Made Out of Sound (Chris Corsano and Bill Orcutt’s follow-up to 2018’s Brace Up!) was recorded not only in different locations but on different coasts (Corsano in Ithaca, NY and Orcutt in San Francisco, CA).
It’s almost remiss to pinpoint one track on Made Out of Sound, for each of its compositions drip blood, sweat and tears into the next, creating a boundless tourism of sound far beyond those parallel universes.
The album’s title is about the only thing that makes sense here. In what is a psychedelic exploration cutting across the threshold of normality, Made Out of Sound is a translucent, hypnotic post-music pilgrimage.
Matt Christensen: Blue Smoking Room
Zelienople have always cherry-picked the best parts from forward-thinking music of the ’90s and Matt Christensen trims the fat even more on Blue Smoking Room.
Here, we see Christensen operating at his most ‘conventional’. The guitars are spiky yet spacious, possessing an ominous growl that could be described as a modest Neil Young collaborating with Low.
Front-to-back, Blue Smoking Room is a winner. From the down-and-out waltz of Dirtboy, to the slowcore splendour of I Look My Age and The Wrong Way to Predict the Future – the latter one of the finest things Christensen has written – Blue Smoking Room is not only Christensen’s finest record in 2021, it’s also up there with the best music anyone’s released, too.
A collection of compositions spanning over the last 15 years, Liz Harris describes Shade as an album inspired by respite, with themes weighing heavily on her native Pacific Northwest.
Harris lifts the veil from the vulnerability captured on past recordings. For a lot of Shade, the security blanket of noise is lifted in favour of unvarnished, gorgeous vistas of sound, showcasing a new, naked intimacy that Harris has seldom revealed to us before.
It makes for a fascinating collection of songs that illuminate an intimacy and honesty previously not heard from Harris. Oddly enough, for those yet to delve into Grouper’s body of work, Shades may just be the place to start the journey.
The Bug: Fire
In between Roger Robinson’s sombre dispatches, Fire is filled with dread-scapes that swell and explode in downright fury. Ultimately, Fire is the sound of now, with The Bug enlisting all the usual suspects to extract despair from the deepest pits in what is a record that crystallises the rage and despondency many people experience today.
The Bug’s listenership has always consisted of that cross-over between metal heads, grime and dancehall lifers, hip-hop aficionados, and experimental noodlers, which is the barometer of defining something special; people from different backgrounds and experiences being summoned and intoxicated by the same piece of art.
That’s essentially how one can define soul and that’s what The Bug produces. As vehemently irate and ear-splitting as it is, when you strip it all back, this is soul music and on Fire, once again Kevin Martin’s creations resonate in the deepest way possible.
Nick Cave & Warren Ellis: Carnage
Goliath Enterprises Limited
There were some clues that Nick Cave and Warren Ellis had been working up to something of Carnage’s magnitude. Take Ghosteen’s linear notes, for instance. No accompanying Bad Seeds are in sight – just Cave and Ellis, both suited and booted, meandering along the shores of Brighton.
Only time will tell whether Carnage is a masterpiece. The Cave / Ellis alliance doesn’t possess that friction and yin and yang of the greatest songwriters in music history. That’s what makes their partnership even more frightening and indeed, beautiful. Just two mates, creating.
Overall, engaging with Carnage is like getting swept back into the emotional blast zone where, as Cave sings on Ghosteen’s title track, “You’re sitting on the edge of the bed, smoking and shaking your head.” If that’s what defines a high-watermark then Carnage is very much that.
The Armed: ULTRAPOP
On ULTRAPOP, the Detroit collective’s fourth album, The Armed deal heavy in maximalism. It extends beyond the music itself with band members undertaking intense fitness regimes throughout the lockdown period. The end result? A collective of musicians looking more like a militia of construction workers as opposed to a dissident rock band.
With a band possessing a noise-rock / hardcore pedigree, a genre that defines everything that pop music is not, ULTRAPOP may leave some listeners somewhat chilly and perhaps green at the gills. Let’s be honest – with a fanbase as rabid as theirs, it’s hard to gauge which way it will go, making the circumstances all the more thrilling.
Either way, The Armed thrust forward as the new crusaders of innovation and in what is their most ambitious offering yet, ULTRAPOP is a statement. To these ears, it’s a pretty good one, too.
Aging ~ Land Trance: Embassy Nocturnes
With arguably their finest recordings committed to tape yet, Aging’s multi-instrumentalist and Tombed Visions label owner, David McLean, combines with Joel Murray, Ex-Easter Island Head / Land Trance’s Ben Duvall and Andrew PM Hunt for their debut collaboration cut, Embassy Nocturnes.
While referencing experimental purveyors of the past two decades, Aging and Land Trance add their own tints, shades, and tones to this vivid canvass. So much so that it’s one they could very well call their own.
In a year that has seen many collaborations break through glass ceiling, undoubtedly, Embassy Nocturnes reaches even further beyond. Quite simply, it’s up there with the best of them, as Aging and Land Trance have provided a new cadence that sounds like nothing else in 2021.
It was hard to imagine BIG|BRAVE emulating their fantastic 2019 album, A Gaze Among Them – the kind of album that exudes a quality that is generally only captured within a certain space and time. However, with VITAL, the throbbing, monolithic slabs of noise slowly seep into your bones whereby it not only matches its predecessor, it transcends it.
BIG|BRAVE make the kind of music that drags you into the vortex. Unlike most albums, VITAL also has the ability to pull you out of it. The tones instantly bruise, the rhythms crush like a vice while their hypnotic heaviness reaches new terrains in the world of psychedelia. It creates those burgeoning juxtapositions. Down-trodden yet uplifting. Ugly yet beautiful.
Containing tones that could launch tremors through oak, VITAL is the finest metal album of 2021.
Low: HEY WHAT
How does a band follow-up a masterpiece? Because, make no mistake, Low’s 2018 LP, Double Negative, was indeed just that. In fact, it’s one of the finest records produced since the turn of the century and, in the years to come, will be one of the few albums that will be spoken of as a vital, timeless, artistic reference point.
The Duluth pioneers still produce sinister, blustery soundscapes that scratch, smudge and fade, but on HEY WHAT producer, BJ Burton, has brought the vocals forward from the maelstrom of discontent; in particular Alan Sparhawk’s voice, which is no longer tangled and cloaked in the ominous sheets of sound, instead emerging through a red mist.
Some may see HEY WHAT as a sonically disjointed, flustered presence, but that’s the point. It’s an album tailor-made for these times, with Sparhawk and Mimi Parker navigating through the dark prism of worldly cynicism that possesses the same turbulence and tormented beauty of Double Negative.
FACS: Present Tense
Trouble In Mind
Last year saw the release of what can be considered FACS’ first water-mark in Void Moments. A thick toxic cloud suffocating the atmosphere. It was post-punk cloaked in a new shade of darkness.
Like Void Moments, Present Tense is sonically menacing. Music brimming with tension through shadowy hellscapes and militant rhythms.
Where Void Moments is best experienced through headphones, the best results with Present Tense can be extracted from the stereo, with FACS emitting a tranquillising proto-rock hybrid that frazzles the mind and drills through bone. It’s the kind of paranoid grip that FACS operate in. The present is, indeed, tense.
Joyful Noise Recordings
After careful consideration, trying to come up with a different word other than legend is near impossible when referring to Jim White (Dirty Three), Chris Abrahams (The Necks / The Still) and Gareth Liddiard (Tropical Fuck Storm / The Drones). Whether true or not, the fact remains that White, Abrahams, and Liddiard are among the most important voices in the Australian cultural landscape; if that’s not legendary enough, then I’m not sure what is.
Together they are Springtime, and their self-titled debut LP is exactly what one would expect when merging the sound worlds that these three musicians have spent decades creating, inhabiting, and refining.
With Springtime, White’s butcher-blade percussion slices through Liddiard’s feral diatribes and Abrahams dark polluted keys. It’s a wonderful combination of three original voices.
Springtime epitomises everything that a collaboration is supposed to be. A boiling surge of musicianship where, individually, each artist produces an equally mesmerising performance.
It is a worthy winner of Sun 13’s album of the year in 2021.
Top 50 recap:
50. Midwife: Luminol
49. Allen Moore: Lived A Devil
48. Stuart Cook: Piano 51°40’49.6″N 2°14’09.2
47. XIMES: Hallelujah Anyway
46. Jeff Parker: Forfolks
45. Matt Sweeney & Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy: Superwolves
44. Gnod: La Mort Du Sens
43. Black Tempel Pyramid: Infinite Tombs
42. Loscil: Clara
41. Tropical Fuck Storm: Deep States
40. David Colohan: Darling Point
39. Divide and Dissolve: Gas Lit
38. Light Conductor: Sequence Two
37. SIMM: Too Late to Dream
36. P.M. Tummala: Abstractions in Meera
35. Gaffa Bandana: Fraught in Waves
34. Damon & Naomi: A Sky Record
33. Claire Cronin: Bloodless
32. The Still: Got It
31. Kulk: We Spare Nothing
30. Eleventh Dream Day: Since Grazed
29. Fading Tapes: Eastern Red Coast
28. Deafheaven: Infinite Granite
27. Matt Christensen: Constant Green
26. Mess Esque: Mess Esque
25. Charlie Butler: Darmok
24. Richard Dawson & Circle: Henki
23. Odd Beholder: Sunny Bay
22. Moin: Moot!
21. Kowloon Walled City: Piecework
20. New Bums: Last Time I Saw Grace
19. The Reds, Pinks and Purples: Uncommon Weather
18. Slant: 1집
17. Emma Ruth Rundle: Engine of Hell
16. Six Organs Of Admittance: The Veiled Sea
15. Sleaford Mods: Spare Ribs
14. Fly Pan Am: Frontera
13. The Besnard Lakes: …Are the Last of the Great Thunderstorm Earnings
12. Lingua Ignota: SINNER GET READY
11. Chris Corsano & Bill Orcutt: Made out of Sound
10. Matt Christensen: Blue Smoking Room
9. Grouper: Shade
8. The Bug: Fire
7. Nick Cave & Warren Ellis: Carnage
6. The Armed: ULTRAPOP
5. Aging ~ Land Trance: Embassy Nocturnes
4. BIG|BRAVE: Vital
3. Low: HEY WHAT
2. FACS: Present Tense
1. Springtime: Springtime
Previous Sun 13 Top Albums of the Year:
Sun 13’s Albums Quarterly 2021 round-up: