Best of 2021
Beat Rehab

Best of 2021

Richard Dawson and Circle - Henki

Not an easy one to break down. Imagine the smaller hairy biker, singing over an obscure 70’s prog record he brought home from the British Heart Foundation because he liked the cover. It’s as fantastic as that sounds. Everyone involved in this project looks like they once were, or indeed still are, an assistant manager at Games Workshop.

Backxwash - I Lie Here Buried with My Rings and My Dresses

Winner of this year’s ‘I don’t what the fuck that was, but I demand to listen to it again NOW” prize. Sometimes different perspectives sound like they’re from different plains of existence. (SS)

Pip Blom - Welcome Break

Dutch four piece indie group’s first in a series of albums all based around the merits or otherwise of British service station companies. Album is less shit than this joke. (SS)

Eris Drew - Quivering in Time

2020s Fabric DJ mix by Drew and partner Octo Octa was a piece of deliberate musical therapy. A tour through the emotions that dance music gives you and which lockdown was depriving us of. Quivering in Time may be an album of original material but the approach is similar. It could be 10 new tracks, or 50 cut-up house classics. (SS)

John Carpenter - Lost Themes III: Life after Death

JC continues the (presumably) final act of his career with his third and best album of original songs with terrible names. If we can’t have new films from him, at least we know what they would have sounded like. (SS)

Rank - Black Frame

French album from the indier end of post punk that just gets the important stuff right. Bass driven melodies, added drama from synths. The riffs are used sparingly for more power. (SS)

Little Simz - Sometimes I Might Be Introvert

SIMBA builds upon GREY area’s bass-driven funk with afrobeat and 70s Love Unlimited Orchestra vibes all providing loose backing for Simz’s disciplined flow. (SS)

Denham Audio - Transcendence EP, Denham Audio and Friends EP

Another year, another set of excellent EPs from Sheffield’s Denham. I’m a sucker for this sort of retro flavoured stuff when it’s done right. Both EPs are tributes to early to mid 90s dance. From the seven minute acid house Down on Me, the rave breakbeat of Love Addiction and the slabs of junglism found elsewhere it’s a combined 51 minutes of pleasure harking back to an era when dance music still felt dangerous and energy was its currency. (SS)

DJ Black Low - Uwami

Nowadays, my libido clicks and groans like a Victorian loom and my genitals are so horribly shrunken and foul in appearance I can barely bring myself to touch them. However, when I put this record on, they inflate like an airbag in an accident and I get the notion that if I fucked god herself she’d get shaky thighs. (AC)

Ross from Friends - Tread

Like the Eris Drew album, Tread sometimes sounds more like a jam than a collection of songs which is largely due to the Felix Weatherall using his selfmade Thresho software - a plugin that starts recording once the audio hits a user-defined threshold, then stops once it goes below that threshold. This is 12 songs of chilled house, drum and bass, garage and even some jazz but avoids feeling like genre box ticking. I still don’t really understand that sentence about his plugin though. (SS)

Chvrches - Screen Violence

If 2018’s Love is Dead was a valiant if unsuccessful attempt to move forward, Screen Violence is them doing the same maths and getting the answer right second time around. Builds upon some of the darker moments of their early work but still covered in more hooks than a velcro skyscraper. (SS)

Wiki - Half God

An extended love letter to his home city. The most Noo Yoikest of deliveries over bumping, but still somehow dreamy, production by Navy Blue. There’s a lot of teeth baring aimed in the direction of the wealthy, upwardly mobile set who are gentrifying the neighbourhoods that caretake Wiki’s history. As soon as the rich folks move in it’s all, upcycled furniture stores, bubble tea cafes and vegan sushi parlours, so not all bad. (AC)

Overmono - fabric presents

Their singles on XL over the last four years have been some of the label’s highlights. They’ve plumbed the history of UK dance and featured drum and bass, Warp bleepiness, and house but all imbued with a techno aesthetic. This is their first big DJ mix release and although it does what you’d largely expect, it’s no less thrilling. Adopting an approach of moving swiftly between tracks that is more common in the breaks and cut n paste scenes. It ends up as a bit of an overview of bass driven dance music while sounding less of a ‘tribute’ than this suggests. (SS)

Dinosaur Jr - Sweep it into Space

Dinosaur’s third act has now gone on for longer than both the previous ones combined. Barlow, Mascis and Murph have developed a chemistry but without the tension that defined their first incarnation. It’s still unmistakably them but there’s a lightness to this that makes the 46 minutes fly by. They like they’re doing this because it’s fun; they sound comfortable. They sound their age in the best sense. (SS)

Hovvdy - True Love

Sweet and semi-catatonic Americana. Pop this on some headphones and fall forward like a trust exercise, instead of an unpleasant encounter with your living room floor you’ll drop and pinwheel gently through a soothing warmth. You never know, when the record is over and you touch down softly on your sofa, things might not be quite so shit. (AC)

Halsey - If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power

Trent Reznor takes time off from soundtracks and looking terribly serious to produce Halsey’s latest. Like his work with Saul Williams, the result is a meeting of minds. Most, if not all, of Halsey’s pop sensibilities are intact over the top of music that feels like a tour of Nine Inch Nails sounds. Both benefit from the new context with Reznor sounding more awake and Halsey’s introspection sounding less performative. Which is of course terribly unfair to both of them, but I’m worried about finding the money to fix fifth gear on my car, while they probably buy the expensive pasta from the top shelf of Tesco. (SS)

Black Country, New Road - For the First Time

With the news just out that singer Isaac Wood has left the band weeks away from the second album, it feels weird to be celebrating their debut. Skewed storytelling, noisy horns, post punk methods. Like reading a book while Black Midi fall into an orchestra pit. (SS)

Park Hye Jin - Before I Die

Morbid, Korean trip-house. Electronics belch, twist and stutter whilst Park intones, listlessly, about dark themes lost to language. Seems like she’s already looking beyond this record, and straight through you. (AC)

Liz Phair - Soberish

Poor old indie fans of a certain age have been mourning the creative decline of an icon, based around tribal and myopic parameters. Even discussion around her perceived failure showed her to be as iconoclastic as ever. The issue was perfectly summarised in this excellent interview with Phair, and the subsequent twitter thread where the Pitchfork writer who famously gave her self titled album a 0.0 basically explained why he and others were wrong about her and what an arse he’d been

Admittedly I never expected to like this but Soberish is really worth investing some time in. Thoughtful and bittersweet, it’s an interesting addition to the divorce album pantheon. Emotionally we’re in a very different world to Exile from Guyville. Soberish may be a reference to her giving up drinking but still getting a bit high, but it also says a lot about her perspective on her relationship. This isn’t an angry break-up album, or a confused one, it’s very philosophical, sometimes mournful but very much someone at the acceptance part of grief and it’s most likely not a perspective that a younger woman would have reached with such grace and nuance. (SS)

My Idea - That’s My Idea E.P.

Lily Konigsberg is so relentlessly brilliant I worry about her a little. The experimental clatter punk of Palberta, the lo-fi chamber pop of her collab with Andreas Schiavelli and this glorious pop project with Nate Amos cover less than half of the amazing shit she’s produced recently. (SS)

Indigo De Souza - Any Shape You Take

Being horrifically fucking old, I’m not au fait with how young people recognise, process or express their feelings and neither should I be. Indigo is though, and she has the edge on Swifty in my not so humble opinion. She’s as happy howling through squalls of guitar as she is confidently out 1975’ing the 1975 and she writes without fear or obvious influence. (AC)

CFCF - Memoryland

The popular dance music of my early 20s, as re-interpreted by someone who was 10 at the time. To us, it was all distinct sub genres and cultural moments, to CFCF it was an amorphous soundtrack to the world. He was only 10. Fuck this guy, but buy his record. (SS)

Another Michael - New Music and Big Pop

A record as pretty and fragile as your Mum’s special ornaments. Like Neil Young found the fountain of youth, took a big old gulp, moved to Portland and started his career all over again. “We’re up late on-line, talking about new music. And you sent me a link to a song that I’d never heard before”. (AC)

Ladyhawke - Time Flies

Released in December with therefore no hope of being included in end-of-year lists. This is the advantage of waiting until February. Pure pop, if pop was defined by people over 35. Which of course it isn’t. (SS)

Katy Kirby - Cool Dry Place

And when you think she’s tuned you all she can, she’s gonna tune you a little bit more. High stepping, perfect pop from Nashvillian genius. (AC)

Ministry - Moral Hygiene

You’re reading the news, acting all surprised that fascists are back and that the apocalypse is here. Al Jourgenson is tapping your George McFly head like an industrial Biff Tannen while shouting “I FUCKING TOLD YOU SO”. (SS)

Low - Hey What

You’ve already heard about this I imagine, but it is a remarkable record. If the Wicker Man remake had somehow crossed over with Tron, rather than just featuring Nick Cage punching women in Aran sweaters, this would’ve soundtracked it perfectly. (AC)

Mogwai - As the Love Continues

Even a mediocre Mogwai album is worth your time but this isn’t that. This is them at their most emotionally engaging. Epic, sad, and consistent. (SS)

Lucy Dacus - Video

These songs could be short stories, early Linklater style vignettes or anything you’d care to turn the written word into. Dacus writes beautifully and sings in tones that don’t crop up very often. I went to see her when she toured the first record and it felt like that voice was coming from everywhere. (AC)

Petey - Lean Into Life

You know the joy you feel after you’ve cried? The relief after you’ve talked to someone about how you’re feeling? Lean Into Life is that.

Some singers make you want to be their friend, Petey makes you feel like he already is. (SS)

Illuminati Hotties - Let me Do One More

Album number 3 from LA’s Sarah Tudzin and her best to date. Three minute indie-pop with no excess fat. Full of little flourishes and percussion that sit perfectly in the mix. Goofy, endearing and smart. (SS)

Joy Orbison - Still Slipping 1

Over a decade in the making, Peter O’ Grady’s first longform release isn’t quite what you’d expect but is still recognisably a Joy Orbison record. Still Spinning is a bass heavy post dubstep album with glitchy broken beats and moments of UK garage and house. After a decade of acclaimed singles, he’s embraced the medium and made a concept album of sorts. Samples of his family punctuate throughout, clearly influenced by lockdown distanced living. Still Sipping is an album for headphones, a sofa and 45 minutes put aside. (SS)

The Armed - ULTRAPOP

Shadowy punk collective shed another skin and produce a record that sounds like Fucked up and The Weekend doing sex in a drain. (AC)

Self Esteem - Prioritise Pleasure

Personal confessions as massive dramatic pop. You can detect the odd influence (El-P producing Kate Bush drumming for Queen. Or something) but this is something very different. Hilarious, sad, and full of hope. Bonus point for best opening lyrics of the year “Sexting you at the mental health talk seems counterproductive” (SS)

Modeselektor - Extended / EXTLP

Whether it’s their Extended mix tape, or their fan-requested follow up of longer versions of the same songs (EXTLP) you pick up, you can expect the same experience from Berlin’s premier techno export. Clanking, bleeping with some brilliant vocal turns. There’s plenty of humanity here but it won’t stop you walking like a T-1000 while you’re listening. (SS)

Blake Saint David - Be Your Own Celebrity

The internet has broken art, skewed perception and finally proved that we really don’t give a shit about anything. Blake Saint David drives across this wasteland in a posh jeep, flinging great ideas out of the windows like greasy burger wrappers. Better get rid of it all, it’s all evil. (AC)

Shire T - Tomorrow’s People

Maribou State’s Shire T takes Maribou’s emotional palette and applies it to the dancefloor. Expect the accessibility and classiness of the parent project in terms of vocals and warm orchestration, but with glorious analogue technology informing the beats and synths.

You! Yes you - the person who bought Jockey Slut in the late 90s. Stop telling girls about Discovery being the best album of the 21st century. They’re not interested. Go home and listen to this. (SS)

Lil Nas X - MONTERO

In which the clever ‘lil’ savant pulls a bunch of disparate sounds into his pop sphere without losing an ounce of identity. Bangers, ballads, fucking emo. He just lasso’s ‘em all one handed and pulls them in while not breaking eye contact with you. (SS)

Dijon - Absolutely

Beautiful alterna-soul from a mercurial autodidact with multi-musical personalities. Features lots of guitars, so he’s guaranteed four rows of white folks at the front of every gig. (AC)

Bicep - Isles

Recently, I was on youtube and someone had made an hour-long continuous mix of Glue, from Bicep’s previous album. What should have been boring, was like losing myself in a happy memory, reliving the same moment again and again in my head, each time feeling the same rush of emotion through an opiate dream from which I didn’t wish to return. The comments (“this song gives you memories you haven’t even had yet”, “this is so helping with my depression in lock down”, “we brought our baby into the world while this was playing”), suggested I was far from alone. If you ever want to cheer yourself up, have a read of them. The sense of connection between people is so tangible, you’ll feel it in your belly.

Bicep’s sound affects people deeply. Of course it’s the same sense of emotional safety and positivity we’ve all felt while dancing and grinning in fields but there aren’t many dance acts that are able to tap into that so directly.

Simultaneously tranquil and banging. (SS)

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