2021 in music, sorta

I bought about an album a week this year, which is roughly on par with previous years, although this year my music purchases seem to have been focused on filling holes in my collection– I spent a lot of time listening to Outkast and REM and Black Crowes and Jane’s Addiction and Alice In Chains, and it turns out that I didn’t have everything they released. Prince had a new release and that got me to go back and pick up a few of his records that I didn’t have before. A lot of the new stuff (as in 2020-21 releases) was kind of experimental and a lot of it didn’t work out. But this article from Albumism, full of shiny new music mostly by artists I’ve never heard of, popped up on my radar today and that got me thinking about the new, or at least newer, music that I bought this year that made an impact, so I figured since I always write a ton of end-of-the-year pieces during the week between Christmas and New Year’s I may as well start with this. Other than one album I’m not going to be ranking anything, but here are six albums that I bought this year (mostly; we’ll get to the exception) and that I think are worth you checking out.

Mazbou Q, The Future Was. I actually encountered this guy through his TikTok feed, believe it or not, where he talks about the musical theory behind hiphop, and does so at great length and in incredible detail in a way that is incredibly interesting and illuminating, especially to someone like me who doesn’t have much technical knowledge about music and frequently struggles to talk about it in a way that is compelling. The guy’s smart as hell and his lyrics are complex and fascinating and I’m pretty sure I’m the only person I know who has heard of him, so let’s see if we can’t bring that number up a little bit.

Counting Crows, Butter Miracle Suite One. Technically an EP– this includes four new songs and four single edits of those four songs, but that didn’t stop me from keeping it on repeat for quite a while after it came on. Adam Duritz is one of my favorite singers, and while the Counting Crows aren’t nearly as big as they were in the nineties everything they release is directly up my alley.

Lil Nas X, Montero. A confession! I’m not actually that big of a fan of Old Town Road, the song that made sure that everybody on the Goddamned planet knew who Lil Nas X was, mostly because we all had our own guest spots on the remixes. That said, this album is fucking brilliant, and the fact that I still think it’s brilliant despite the fact that I can’t turn on the radio without hearing three songs from it is damned impressive. The guy’s got an incredible amount of talent, both as a musician and a visual artist (my jaw was hanging open for the entirety of my first couple of viewings of the music video for Call Me By My Name) and I hope he has a really, really long and prolific career.

Billie Eilish, Happier than Ever. This was probably my single most eagerly anticipated album of the year, as I was looking forward to Billie Eilish’s follow-up to When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? pretty much from the moment I first listened to it. I’m not sure this is quite the triumph that Asleep was (and I have utterly no idea at all what the relative sales were like) but it’s a damned impressive record. I also bought her brother Finneas’ debut, Optimist, and while I enjoyed it I think his skills are probably more on the production end of things. That sounds like an insult. It’s not. I had this whole metaphor here about playing tennis against LeBron James but I don’t think it quite makes sense so I’m just going to assume you know what I’m talking about and move on.

Taylor Fuckin’ Swift, Evermore. Yes okay technically this came out in December of 2020 but it’s close fucking enough, and I only bought this because I wanted to see if my enjoying Folklore was a fluke, and then I found out the reasons behind her re-releasing Fearless and Red and I ended up buying both of those on release date too, just out of, like, solidarity, and Jesus Christ have I turned into a fucking Swiftie?

Okay: Evermore and Folklore are both really good. I couldn’t tell you which one I like more because they tend to blur together in my head. And I found myself really enjoying Fearless’ re-release, but Red is kind of the perfect example of Why I’ve Never Really Liked Taylor Swift, because I wasn’t even remotely a fan of hers until this year and yet somehow I can tell you every dude she’s ever dated and that’s kinda fucked up. And I am absolutely on Team Conspiracy Theory about the ten-minute version of All Too Well, because no song written back when that was supposed to have been written would have had the words fuck the patriarchy in it. But fuck it; I’ve always been very clear that Taylor is phenomenally talented if for no other reason than that I have half of her catalog memorized without ever deliberately listening to the songs, and I like the idea that she’s re-releasing all of her old music so that she can screw over this asshole record executive dude, so I’m going to keep buying the re-releases even though I’m going to sigh a lot and roll my eyes while listening to some of the songs.

(I also, and this is related, bought Olivia Rodrigo’s debut Sour this year. I have nothing to say about it until Olivia Rodrigo is no longer a minor.)

(I have just discovered that Olivia Rodrigo is 18.)

(Someone needs to give this kid a hug and a therapist.)

Anyway.

Willow, lately I Feel EVERYTHING. I am not sure that Willow Smith really deserves to be a single-name person yet, but picking this album up was another one of those impulse, what-the-hell-it’s-$9 purchases this year, and I actually haven’t dug into her backlist but whatever the hell era of her music she’s in right now I want a lot more of it. lately I feel EVERYTHING is only 26 minutes long and all but one of the tracks don’t even make it to three minutes, which makes it even more ridiculous that I love it as much as I do. I said I wasn’t going to be doing any ranking, but this is still hands-down and far away the best new music I bought this year; the only thing close to it would have been Montero, which is also full of short-ass songs. If like me you’re an old person and you haven’t given Willow Smith a single thought since back in her Whip My Hair days, you owe it to yourself to check this out, especially if you’re an old 90s head like me. Her music weirdly blends together everything I love about rock and roll, alternative music and hiphop, and it’s just great.

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Luther M. Siler

The author of SKYLIGHTS, THE BENEVOLENCE ARCHIVES and several other books.

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