2021 Catch-Up Explosion, Part 2

Unfortunately, we didn’t review in real time every important 2021 release; thankfully, there’s still time to catch up on essential missed albums, EPs, and singles. This is the second of two 2021 Catch-Up Explosions (read the first one here), featuring in alphabetical order 12 more releases.

Anz - All Hours: On her debut Ninja Tune EP, Manchester DJ Anz successfully crafts a variety of “[dance] music for all hours,” including freestyle, garage, UK bass, and breakbeat. Over All Hours’ 23 minutes, Anz maintains the sparkling, upbeat vibe, such as on the glistening “You Could Be,” featuring West London soul singer George Riley (whose interest rates, a tape is also worth a listen). This is the sound of someone who deeply understands dance music’s history and fundamentals, and the already very good All Hours suggests Anz’ even greater potential. 7/10

Black Country, New Road - For the first time: Black Country, New Road might be the London rock scene’s most exciting new band; while they incorporate existing ideas and aesthetics from post-punk and post-rock, their spacious sound and compositional scope is a fresh take on tradition. Incorporating elements of free jazz and math rock with a lineup including saxophone, violin, and keyboards, their debut album For the first time is one of this year’s most exciting releases, with masterful musicianship, brilliant lyrical storytelling, and multi-part songs that don’t at all feel indulgent or forced. I could go on about how great it is, but it’s best to listen to this true modern rock essential yourself. 8/10

Playboi Carti - Whole Lotta Red: After two years of teasing and failing to drop Whole Lotta Red, Playboi Carti released it on Christmas 2020 (though many count it as a 2021 release) to exhausted and confused audiences. With production by F1lthy, Pi’erre Bourne, Art Dealer, and others, Whole Lotta Red is a sprawling, experimental industrial trap album filled with boisterous punk energy. Carti’s verses—fittingly braggadocious, and obsessed with vampirical rock star imagery—bounce off the walls as distorted synths and 808s create hectic backgrounds. It’s a bit too long, though it’s brilliantly forward-thinking, uncompromising, and polarizing. Whole Lotta Red may not be Carti’s most consequential work, but its fans will listen to and remember it for years. Count me among them. 8/10

Sam Fender - Seventeen Going Under: On his sophomore album Seventeen Going Under, British singer-songwriter Sam Fender heavily draws from Springsteen’s 80s heartland rock sound and adds his own brand of sometimes compelling, often politically-focused lyricism. The predictable production suffocates the final product, but there’s something here. 6/10

Glaive - all dogs go to heaven: One of hyperpop’s major stars (and among the first to land a major label deal), 16-year-old Glaive’s music is catchy and economical; none of his solo tracks run past two and a half minutes, but they manage to have complete structures and earworm hooks. On his second EP all dogs go to heaven, his songs are tighter and cleaner, with more articulate vocals and chart-leaning production choices that still retain hyperpop’s abrasiveness. However, Glaive’s wider pop ambitions and increased resources come at the expense of his earlier work’s rougher homemade charm, and also leads to failed attempts at epic universality like “all dogs go to heaven (outro).” Still, his career will be worth following. Listeners older than 20 will reasonably find this music too juvenile for their tastes, but even then there’s no denying “detest me” or “i wanna slam my head against the wall”’s infectious nature. 6/10

Glaive & ericdoa - then i’ll be happy: A couple months after all dogs go to heaven, Glaive joined his fellow hyperpop traveler ericdoa for the collaborative EP then i’ll be happy. Unfortunately, their friendship doesn’t translate to great music; there’s a tension between their production preferences (ericdoa’s music is breezier, while Glaive gravitates towards heavier digital distortion), and the songs aren’t consistently as good. The 15-minute final product sounds overproduced and formulaic, as if they’ve run out of new ideas or haven’t actually been dumped or rejected recently enough (but if so, good for them). That said, “mental anguish” and “fuck this town” are good songs. 6/10

Midwife - Luminol: Luminol, the third album from Midwife (Madeline Johnston), is a spacious shoegaze/slowcore blend (she calls it “heaven metal”) that you can disappear into but still find your way out of. With Johnston’s processed vocals and a soft drum machine behind enveloping layers of distorted guitars, Luminol is dark and grief-stricken—immersive enough to draw you in, but short enough to keep listeners at a safe emotional distance. It’s not for everyone (Johnston’s vocals are definitely an acquired taste), but it’s a well-built album recommended for adventurous listeners. 7/10

Mustafa - When Smoke Rises: On his short debut LP When Smoke Rises, poet and songwriter Mustafa Ahmed—backed by a sparse palette of acoustic guitar, piano, and light electronics—recalls his upbringing in Toronto’s Regent Park projects. His lyrics are unadorned portrayals of gun violence and traumatic loss as well as an analysis of his scars; it’s an absolutely powerful record demanding your attention. The production blends together a bit too much, but under no circumstance should that discourage anyone from listening. 7/10

No Rome - It’s All Smiles: Four years and two EPs after he signed to Dirty Hit, Filipino musician No Rome finally dropped It’s All Smiles, his debut album co-produced with BJ Burton and the 1975’s George Daniel. A notable improvement from the EPs (2018’s RIP Indo Hisashi and 2019’s Crying In The Prettiest Places), It’s All Smiles achieves No Rome’s “shoegaze R&B” vision, with densely layered yet emotionally direct production (and if you’re a fan of the 1975, you’ll easily hear Daniel’s fingerprints all over it). The album has a strong sense of flow and cohesion, its ten short songs well-structured enough to almost succeed at hiding No Rome’s weak lyrics. Switching between lovelorn romanticism and simple horniness, he often paints in broad emotional strokes (the repeated “When she comes around/I never try/I never bother/But I love you so” on “When She Comes Around”) yet obsesses over some of the, shall we say, grimier details (the verses on “I Want U”). Still, It’s All Smiles demonstrates No Rome’s excellent ear for sound construction, and his career seems to be in good hands. 6/10

Olivia Rodrigo - SOUR: Unless you’re living under a rock, you’ve inevitably heard of Olivia Rodrigo, the Disney Channel star whose aching breakup ballad “drivers license” and its accompanying album SOUR shot her past the Disney universe and into wider pop culture’s highest echelons overnight. SOUR, for good reason, captivated listeners of many ages and listening backgrounds; its mostly angry (but sometimes sad) breakup theme shows Rodrigo taking control of her own narrative while also emphasizing smaller everyday frustrations, like her inability to parallel park (according to an often-discussed line on album opener “brutal”). Switching between ballads and energetic bursts of rage, her songs are further helped by Dan Nigro’s full but not overcluttered production. All of this worked perfectly: SOUR was 2021’s biggest pop album, and as the tabloids claim, Olivia Rodrigo’s very Swiftian revenge strategy absolutely infuriated her ex. Aside from the big singles (specifically “deja vu” and “good 4 u”), I don’t see myself often returning to SOUR, but it’s a solid record worthy of its success. 6/10

Spellling - The Turning Wheel: Oakland artist Spellling’s The Turning Wheel enchanted the critical cognoscenti, and understandably so; her mystical progressive pop is well-produced and exquisitely arranged. But despite the excellent musicianship, The Turning Wheel’s hour-long runtime yields a dearth of memorable musical passages or hooks—you remember the songs’ sound more than the compositions themselves. It’s a fine record, though not the exciting, adventurous masterpiece it’s said to be. 5/10

Sweet Trip - A Tiny House, In Secret Speeches, Polar Equals: Following their 2003 classic Velocity: Design: Comfort’s online rediscovery, Sweet Trip’s Roby Burgos and Valerie Cooper reunited for the new A Tiny House, In Secret Speeches, Polar Equals. It probably won’t attract many new fans, but it’s a sprawling round-up of their previous work that emphasizes more synthwave elements. Most will still prefer VDC and You Will Never Know Why, but it’s nice to see Sweet Trip return. 6/10

A few good records I unfortunately didn’t get around to reviewing:

Loraine James - Reflection
Japanese Breakfast - Jubilee
L’Rain - Fatigue
Little Simz - Sometimes I Might Be Introvert

…and another handful of decent (but far from essential) albums you should be aware of:

Bobby Gillespie & Jehnny Beth - Utopian Ashes
Iceage - Seek Shelter
Magdalena Bay - Mercurial World
osquinn - Drive-by Lullabies
Parannoul - To See The Next Part Of The Dream
Parannoul, Asian Glow, and sonhos tomam conta - Downfall Of The Neon Youth
Allison Russell - Outside Child
Soshi Takeda - Floating Mountains
Turnstile - GLOW ON
Various Artists - CRSL 001: 8 Years of cakeshop

(Malachi Lui is an AnalogPlanet contributing editor, music obsessive, avid record collector, and art enthusiast. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.)

COMMENTS
Michael Fremer's picture
This compendium astonishes....
WesHeadley's picture

I'll definitely be checking a few of these LP's out. One thing I've found useful from the music reviews that I read, especially regarding the more obscure stuff, is a couple of references to analogous work by other artists or the connection of the review subject to the work of other artists when possible. When you do this in your reviews it helps me decide if this is a path I want to go down. Anyway, your writing, the research, and the energy that I feel coming from your reviews is always a pleasure-- even when I disagree. Keep up the good work and I'll keep checking it out!

Anton D's picture

Great post and you nailed the spirit of our adventures!

Kudos!

Warszawa's picture

Another great round of reviews--keep it up! I'll be picking up the Mustafa record for sure.

rich d's picture

Of course not. So why not just say, "meh" and move on to the next (presumably better album)?

That cavil aside - well done, Sir, and thank you for the continued good work. Even when I disagree I appreciate both the information an the effort. And obviously the price is right.

orthobiz's picture

Yes??

Paul

MalachiLui's picture

there aren’t any sound quality scores on these, though those will remain on standard reviews, vinyl reports, and review explosions. you can use the embedded youtube links here to get an idea of the sound quality yourself… but none of these releases sound awful, at least not on purpose.

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