Monday, January 10, 2022

This Fluid Thrill Music Awards - Best Albums of 2021

This annual tradition has lasted long enough [2020201920182017, (...), 2014201320122011, & 2010it deserves a nickname... 

The Fluidies? Ack! 

The Thrillies? Better, but still no.

Maybe a statute? I'd be tempted just to print this image of the fluid thrill test on some perspex and mount it on a stand:

I mean, it IS musical. From the percussive nature of the test itself (the doctor taps part of the abdomen and listens for the sound of the fluid rippling elsewhere) to the soundwaves (or perhaps the patient has been marked up ahead of an elaborate sawing-in-two) to the cock-ward point of the patient's hand (rock'n'roll, baby!).

Okay, yeah, let's just do another blogpost like it's forever 2008.


Last year I floated the idea of doing a rolling two-year list so that I could consider 2020 music I'd missed, reconsider 2020 albums I may have over- or under-rated, and pit them against new music from 2021...

But it's actually quite tricky. Looking back at my 2020 list, I haven't really listened to many of these albums again (except Dua Lipa on family roadtrips). I feel like cueing up Lo Tom's LP2, which is a good sign, and I don't have any 'Really?' reactions to the others. It was a solid list. 

Along side of this, I'd add short list of 2020 albums I didn't get into until 2021, but really rated:

  • Will Butler - Generations
  • Blake Scott - Niscitam
  • Uffe Lorenzen - Magisk Realisme
  • Kathleen Edwards - Total Freedom
  • Big Wheel - The Baby
  • Ghost Woman - Anne, If (which appears to have disappered from Spotify)
  • Liza Anne - Bummer Days
As for 2021, here's my top 10 albums released in the calendar year, presented in an order I've picked more for the sake of the flow of the resulting playlist rather than the comparative virtues of the albums...

  • Monster Magnet - A Better Dystopia
2020 and 2021 were a golden age for covers as artists were locked down, short of audiences and inspiration but big on time to jam. So it's only fitting that I kick this list off with an album of covers.

MM's covers have always been one of my favourite things about them. Dave Wyndorf has this incredible, off-kilter taste which means every cover song sends me off discovering a new original. There are 13 tracks if you count the bonus (I do!) and they all felt new to me. That is, I must've heard the original version of 'Death' because I had The Pretty Thing's S.F. Sorrow on my iPod back in the day, but I didn't recognise it. And, maybe I'd heard the Hawkwind song (Born to Go), but it didn't ring any bells beyond sounding like it could have been a Hawkwind song.

Not only this this album send me down Pentagram and Poobah and Scientists wormholes, but the covers themselves are good and the album hangs together as a twisted, grungy pysch affair that was perfect for its time and place.

  • Like a Stone - Remember Sports
I like to think I have a reasonably wide-ranging musical tastes. But I have my weaknesses. For example, if you take muscular guitar-driven indie rock, add an idiosyncratic female vocalist and produce songs that get you dancing while you vacuum, I will have A LOT of time for that band.

Remember Sports follows this formula. Sometimes there's a strong Hopalong vibe. Other times, it's Cayetana or Bully or Camp Cope. 

I've enjoyed RS's previous albums All of Something and Sunchokes without them ever quite sticking out as TOP TEN MATERIAL (whatever that is). 

But Like A Stone finally cracked it. Or cracked me. Or I cracked. One of those. 

And now I listen to older songs like 'Clean Jeans' and I'm like, 'How was this not my favourite song of 2016?'

  • Slothrust - Parallel Timeline
I loved Slothrust's last album (The Pact, 2018), but came to their new album (released in Sept '21) late and it almost missed this list... but now I've corrected my omission and can't stop listening to it. 

Harkening back to "the formula" above, Slothrust is rockier than Remember Sports, and the singing more tuneful, the lyrics less angular and look at me, and I am here for it!

  • Dry Cleaning - New Long Leg
Speaking of angular, look at me lyrics... This band sounds a bit like Life Without Buildings (who only released one album, but 2001's Any Other City is *chef's kiss*) or Arab Strap. So not great for housework dance sessions, but unbeatable when walking to work.

I can never decide if they sound retro (as old-making it is to consider music that came out when I was at university retro), or very now. Either way, here's hoping they aren't another one-and-done outfit.

  • Allie Crow Buckley - Moonlit and Devious
Same vibe as ACB's amazing EP So Romantic, with more songs. Who's complaining!?

  • Middle Kids - Today We're the Greatest
I heard 'Edge of Town' from their 2019 album at the end of an episode of the UK show, Defending the Guilty and not long after Middle Kids dropped their new album and they were periodically the greatest in my books.

  • James McMurtry - The Horses and the Hounds
Son of Larry 'Lonesome Dove' McMurtry has been releasing albums for three decades but I only started listening to him in 2021. His song, 'Just Us Kids' from the 2008 album of the same name is one of those Straight to the pool room tracks that you keep finding excuses to crowbar into playlists.

As for 2021's The Horses and the Hounds, it's classic McMurtry country-fried story telling with politics that subverts the red-state twang. Think Drive By Truckers. Think Alejandro Escovedo, Chuck Prophet, Joe Ely. And he often put me in mind of a certain era of Warren Zevon.

So yeah, goddam fantastic.

  • Foxing - Draw Down the Moon
I had a big Foxing phase this year. 2014's The Albatross is crazy good. Like Local Natives go Emo. There are two more albums between that and 2021's Draw Down the Moon, in which time Foxing morph into... Manchester Orchestra? Unknown Mortal Orchestra? MGMT? The National? Vendetta Red (remember them?)?

They are all over the shop and I can't decide if it's their taste or mine that's dubious*, but all of it is glorious.

* Who am I kidding: it's definitely mine. Vendetta Red? 

  • Mdou Moctar - Afrique Victime
The Tuareg guitar god and his band "rip a new hole in the sky" with this album, according to the blurb they posted on Spotify. I love that. It's so cool that Saharan Africa is transmuting rock and taking the mantle of prog, glam and metal blowhards along the way. 

I can listen to Moctar's music for hours. The only thing that can convince me to stop is when I picture a white guy with dreads who busks in Noosa with a strat and an effects pedal and probably loves this shit as much as I do.

  • The Weather Station - Ignorance
I have issues with the boring quotient of band name + album name + song titles, but I am working through them.

'Atlantic' was the only song I put on two different monthly playlists in 2021. It's a hell of a song, only disqualified from song of the year consideration because the rest of the album is almost as good and artists can be on both lists.

Rules is rules.


Two other albums deserve special mention:
  • Assertion - Intermission - sorry lads, there was only one boring band name + album name slot available this year, but that's for the year's best straight-ahead rock album.
  • Taylor Swift - Red (Taylor's Version) - I am now a bigger fan and Taylor than my 9 year old daughter. I stan what she's doing with the rerecording. I concede there's a bit less pep in her new versions of 'I knew you were trouble' and 'We are never ever getting back together' but this is more than made up for in the chutzpah of 'All Too Well (10 minute version)(Taylor's version)' [greatest song title with parenthesis ever?] and more unlost gems than we mortals deserve.

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