After covering my 2021 in Photography, I wanted to take a moment to look at some of my favorite music from the year.
I didn’t purchase a lot of music earlier in the year, before I picked up the pace in the second half.
Bandcamp Rules – Spotify Still Sucks
What follows is an eclectic list of songs from albums I really enjoyed. Where possible, I included a Bandcamp embed (my profile is here), the best place on the internet to purchase music.
For bands and artists that are sadly not using Bandcamp, I have included a Youtube embed. I had the option of including a Spotify embed, but screw Spotify, who are still paying less than 3-tenths of one cent per play, even during the Pandemic.
Billboard, in spite of this, heavily weights Spotify plays with more value than Spotify actually pays in royalties. Because Spotify is yet another company that hands over their influence to an almighty opaque algorithm, Billboard charts are even more worthless than in the past, which is how you end up with Drake occupying 7 of the top 10 spots on the Hot 100.
Radio stations, on the other hand, pay about 1.7 cents per play, which is about 4-5 times more than Spotify. And there has been a lot of push-back from artists saying it is time for radio stations to increase royalties. What Spotify pays is below minimum wage, really.
And because of their awful algorithms that are benefiting a few artists who have gamed the system, but crowding out the rest, I won’t support them. YouTube isn’t that great either, but I had to compromise somewhere, until all artists wake up and get on Bandcamp. Radiohead, one of the biggest going concerns in rock music, even put their entire catalog on Bandcamp this year. Bravo!
Bandcamp has also sponsored Bandcamp Fridays, generally the first Friday of each month, where they waive their monetary share with all non-processing proceeds going directly to the artists.
This year, I found a majority of my music through sources like NRP’s All Songs Considered and Seattle station KEXP. This is generally good for keeping up with releases in the moment, even if the podcasts are challenging to keep up with.
As for music I missed over time, I found that good ole Pandora still does great. Earlier in 2021, I created a simple station that highlighted Real Estate, one of my favorite indie rock bands. It wasn’t long before I was looking up overlooked acts like Lord Huron, Washed Out, Beach Fossils, and others. My positive experience with with Pandora goes back 15 years, and I remember first hearing bands like Fleet Foxes first there. I am glad Pandora is still in the market.
I am also finishing this post while listening to a new crowd-funded album from a favorite band that we can’t talk about yet. Looking forward to talking about the album at some point. For now, I am just enjoying a great awakening inside while it is just sheer water outside with this storm. A great way to close out the year is to cover this entire list, share it, and keep it fresh.
So I am closing out my 2021 Music by listening to 2022 music that I got access to in 2021.
Generally, I recommend purchasing an entire album versus just a single track. For purposes of blog representation though, I am embedding my current favorite song from each album, in chronological order of release. I hope you enjoy the list as much as I have. Here’s to 2021 in Music, and let’s have a better 2022. Now for the list:
Hand of God, Nick Cave & Warren Ellis
Released: February 25
The Bad Seeds have been around forever, but I did not expect my favorite album of the year would be a dual solo album from Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. Nick’s vocals have aged well. He plays the part of old man very well – the anger and sadness feels apt for 2021. This album is highly recommended.
Ataraxia, by King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard
Released: February 26
I love this band. This band exhausts me. In the last 9 years, the Gizz have released 19 studio albums, and 3 just in 2021. I love their music, they rarely waste a note, and I cannot keep up. This one is from their 3rd “microtonal” album. Their instruments do not have normal frets, so they hit notes that may sound unusual. But the results are fantastic. I would suggest they take a break in 2022 and let the fan catch up to their ridiculous discography.
.beenherebefore., by Dead Poet Society
This was a suggestion from my boss. You will never guess where they got their name from. This is their debut record. I actually enjoyed the album, so hat tip to her for the recommendation.
Half a Human, by Real Estate
Released: March 26
Real Estate is a favorite of mine, and their previous record from last year was my favorite in 2020. Half a Human was an EP which mostly had leftover tracks. I normally am not impressed with that, but this one was very good. Real Estate always writes great songs.
Isn’t Everyone, by HEALTH & Nine Inch Nails
This was a mashup between a local LA band and one of my all-time favorites. This was the only track released, but NIN music has been hard to come by as Trent and Atticus have been doing so many musical scores. Let’s get a new NIN album in 2022 please!
Porcelain (Reprise Version), by Moby
Released: May 28
A new version of a 22 year old song is usually not something I go for, but Porcelain was my favorite song on Moby’s Play album. The Reprise album has new versions of many of his old songs. Some of them are not too interesting, but this one was quite arresting. I love Jim James and his band, My Morning Jacket, and he nails this version.
Leave A Light On, by Modest Mouse
Released: June 25
One reminder of just how incredibly old I am now is the realization that the first Modest Mouse record came out 25 years ago. Modest Mouse hit it big in the hey-day of the early 2000s, but some of their albums have been hit and miss since. This album is the hit variety. Isaac Brock hasn’t lost his sense of humor. With track titles like “Fuck Your Acid Trip” and “Don’t Fuck A Spider On The Fly,” I could have guessed this band instantly. Here, I went for one of their more strait-forward tracks, but they have a style that is slightly awkward and pleasing at the same time. Still an original after all these years.
Ancient Path, by Akasha System
Released: July 5
Great, relaxing, electronic music by Hunter P. Thompson from Portland. He released a couple albums last 2 years, and this is an EP. Excellent road trip music. Even if you are not into electronic as a very high-level genre, I think this music would find a place with you.
I Won’t Stay For Long, by David Crosby
Released: July 23
It is 2021 and I am recommending David Crosby. Who would have guessed that in the 1970s. His Byrds and CSNY days are long-gone, but somehow at 80 years old his voice is as beautiful as ever. This is the album closer, and an instant favorite, but the entire record is excellent. Not bad for the guy that wrote Triad nearly 55 years ago.
In Color by My Morning Jacket
Released: October 22
I love My Morning Jacket and Jim James is one of my favorite singers. He is a pretty prolific artist, weaving a long line of great solo work with his main band. The Jacket released an album just last year, so I wasn’t expecting a new record in 2021. The results are fantastic. I labored over which song to include, but I picked one of their epics, there is a great build to this one. I recommend the entire album.
Dismembered, by Jerry Cantrell
Released: October 29
There isn’t a better way to relive my teenage years than listen to a grunge icon. Sometimes latter-day Alice In Chains and Jerry’s solo work can be hard to listen to, because it is a hard reminder that Layne Staley was lost way too young. Indeed, I found myself thinking of Layne harmonizing with Jerry on these tracks. But these tracks have some power. This is easily Jerry Cantrell’s best solo album, and he casts a wide net. You’ll find tracks that line up well with Dirt-era AIC (Atone, which I did not post because the video was shot in Joshua Tree, and why promote over-commercialization of JT) but this was probably my album favorite. If you’re a Gen-X’er like me, I think you will like this record.
Pain with an Anchor, by Mastodon
Released: October 29
I don’t listen to a lot of progressive metal, but Mastodon is my street corner when I need it. This album is a beast, at 87 minutes. It would fit 4 LP sides almost perfectly, and I suspect that is not a coincidence. This album is a little more relaxed than their old work like the seminal Blood Mountain. This is not a record to relax to, but if you need some adrenaline, you could do far worse.
I Don’t Wanna Wait, by The War On Drugs
Released: October 29
This album is fine, and has been universally praised in the music press. That being said, I much prefer older TWOD records. Still, the songs are clean, precise, and delivered with precision. After you’re a little exhausted from Mastodon, this is one you can chill out on the couch and absorb.
Blank Curtain, by Cola
Released: November 3
This is a new band that formed with the band Ought broke up. So far, this is the only track they have released, but it was an excellent find. I definitely would like to see a full-length from them in 2022.
How to Disappear into Strings, by Radiohead
Released: November 5
Radiohead somehow released a “video game” that was cooler than anything else a band has ever done. And it is free!
The Kid A Mnesia release puts together the Kid A and Amnesiac albums that were split up in 2000 and 2001 because they thought it was too vain to put out a double-album.
At first, I was surprised and disappointed that the two albums were not re-mastered, but listening to the originals, I soon realized they didn’t need it. So the extras and additional tracks were what I focused on. This one was beautiful. You can understand how Jonny and Thom ended up doing musical scores (more on that later).
Car Crash, by IDLES
Released: November 12
I got into IDLES from their previous record, so I got this one right when it came out. This is another high blood pressure album that can wear you out, so it is a great listen when you are in an adrenaline-junkie sort of mood.
Flying Dream 1, by Elbow
Elbow is another band from the UK that I really enjoy. They are a relaxing dessert to an IDLES dinner, if you will. They have always made wonderful songs and this is an excellent album.
Float (Feat Obed Calvaire), by Jordan Peters
Released: November 19
This was a fantastic All Songs Considered find. I don’t know exactly how to describe it. Electronic? Jazz? Progressive rock instrumental-ism? When I bought the album on Bandcamp, it came with the Genre as: Unknown Genre. Perhaps that is the best way to categorize these strange but arresting and fascinating songs. Float is by far my favorite on the album.
Licorice Pizza, by Jonny Greenwood
I love Jonny’s musical scores, except for the part where it prevents a new Radiohead album from getting done. Jonny was specifically commissioned by Paul Thomas Anderson to write the title track for the movie, and it is a wonderful song. Now…let’s get that successor to Moon-Shaped Pool done, please.
Fade, by Aeon Station
Released: December 10
Okay, where to start. So, there used to be a band called The Wrens, and they were famous for taking forever to release their records. In 2003, after 7 years, they released a masterpiece called The Meadowlands, one of the very best indie rock albums of the 2000s. They have spent 18 years failing to make the follow-up.
The Wrens had two main songwriters, Kevin Whelan and Charles Bissell. Part of what made The Wrens so awesome is that they all sang, these two guys wrote, and Charles produced the song to…over-perfection. That perfectionism has been the main issue since 2003.
They were so sought after, that Sub Pop signed them to a record deal 4 years ago, and even gave them an advance even though they knew a new album wasn’t in sight.
Most of the …”next Wrens album” was done 10 years ago, but Charles just never got the mixes finished. Kevin’s contribution was 6 songs and he finally was fed up, and issued an ultimatum. When that passed, he wrote 4 more songs and created Aeon Station.
Charles was not happy. As this album got press, journalists reached out to him. After writing replies as long as 6,500 words, it was obvious he was hurt. But he also sent mixes of some of “Kevin’s songs” to one journalist, who noted they were obviously incomplete and unfinished. In defending himself, he basically made Kevin’s point.
That shouldn’t detract from the fact that this is an awesome record. I showed it to friend and occasional reader Luke, who said it sounded like something from the mid-2000s. I told him there was much more to that than he really knew!
I love this album, even if it doesn’t have Charles’ amazing “Wrens sound” flourishes. It can be easy to think back to albums like Secausus or The Meadowlands and wonder what could have been, but this album stands up on its own.
Charles has vowed to create his own solo record with his half of the Wrens follow-up. While I would be delighted to see him release an album in 2022, with his track record, I am a little skeptical. And I need these guys to hurry up, if they take as long next time, I will be at Social Security time! So prove me wrong, Charles, and get it done. And then….even though you say never, bury the hatchet with Kevin and come back for a final Wrens album. I won’t be so greedy to ask for more than one record.
Here’s to 2021
Thank you so much for reading. 2021 wasn’t a spectacular year, which I will cover in my final blog post of the year, but musically it did come together. If you like any of these songs and albums, let me know. And if you have a recommendation for me, I am…..all ears.
T.M. Schultze is a San Diego-based photographer, traveller, and writer. He writes, photographs, and draws things of the outdoors that have inspired humans for thousands of years. He co-authored the Photographer’s Guide to Joshua Tree Park which can be purchased here.