Welcome to 2021. Let’s hope we can make it better than 2020. So this, my first post of the year will be a mixture of some looks back and some looks forward. The past couple years, this post (the first after my top albums of the year) has typically been one of the few that includes music that isn’t released within the past year. There will be albums I slept on and discovered late (in a few years, I may declare them among my favorite 2020 releases though they didn’t get much or attention hear), music released too late in the year to have ended up on my year-end list, music from a few artists who passed in 2020, and some looks ahead at music I’m most excited for in 2021.
For late releases, there is one king of them all this year. We Will Always Love You by The Avalanches is an instant classic. It was released about 3 weeks ago. Now I’d heard some singles from it, but I didn’t sit and listen to it fully until this week. Hearing it in its entirety made me love the singles more. As an album, it is a masterstroke. The guest spots throughout include Mick Jones, Neneh Cherry, Leon Bridges, Johnny Marr, Kurt Vile, Sampa the Great, Tricky, Karen O, and on and on and on. I can’t give this enough praise, and I’ve heard plenty of people ammending their year-end favorites with this at the top of the list.
One that will bug me is that I didn’t include Lianne La Havas in my top 25. I love her self-titled release this year, and I think I got it wrong leaving that out, so I’ve included her in this list. Obviously, the cover of Radiohead’s “Weird Fishes” was a track that stunned me, but the entire record is worth your time.
There are two upcoming releases that I’d say I’m most looking forward to, but several others I’m watching for as well. The two are Nilufer Yanya and The Hold Steady. Now, I always look forward to new material from The Hold Steady, but, in particular, I really enjoyed this new single they released called “Family Farm”. Sonically, it’s classic Hold Steady at their best with driving hard rock, piano breaks, and Craig Finn’s distinct storytelling. Nilufer Yanya is a different case, and isn’t super well-known to me although I’ve shared her music here before. Her 2019 album, Miss Universe, had some good moments, but it was the release of the first single from her upcoming release that really grabbed my attention. I shared that single, “Crash”, back in late October, and they’ve added 2 more tracks since. So far, this album looks very promising.
Most forefront in my mind this week of artists we’ve lost this year is rapper and beatmaker, MF DOOM. Always one to be intensely private, Daniel Dumile had actually passed two months before it was announced on December 31st. No cause of death was reported in keeping with his determined shunning of the spotlight. He performed as characters, and kept a mask on for all public appearances (and notably sent others out in the mask at times). What he did as a lyricist changed hip-hop forever though. In many ways, his style was the culmination of the evolution of all hip-hop before him. Things that other pioneers had just touched on or glimpsed in pieces were now fully formed in his flurry of releases in the mid-00’s. His last solo release came in ’09, but he remained active as a serial collaborator appearing on numerous projects (most recently an apparent posthumous release from just weeks ago with Badbadnotgood). He was very comfortable writing multi-syllabic rhymes to the point that every syllable in the entire line rhymed with every syllable in the next. He knew the rules of rhyming and how to break them in such a way that his words flowed like no one before, and have influenced everyone since. “Just remember all caps when you spell the man name.”
The reason I’ve written about DOOM so much is that the news is fresh, and I think his achievements are understated in by many. So much has happened this year, and we’ve lost absolute legends. John Prine, Toots Hibbert and Eddie Van Halen are 3 giants in their respective genres. Any modern singer-songwriter or country artist owes a debt of gratitude to John Prine. His storytelling has shaped music well beyond the boundaries of genre, and you hear his influence in the writing of many today. Eddie Van Halen… do I even need to say anything? Forever pushing the boundaries of how the guitarwas played. Sure, when it comes to deep, profound, heartfelt lyricism, Van Halen won’t be top of anyone’s list. That was never the point, and who says it always needs to be? Eddie’s guitar playing, as with DOOM’s rhyming, changed everything. Toots Hibbert has the distinction of coining the term that would become the name of his genre. He championed Reggae even unto his latest shortly before his passing.
Courtney Marie Andrews, Molly Sarle, Liz Cooper & The Stampede – America
Bedouine, Waxahatchee, Hurray For The Riff Raff – Thirteen
Sarah Jarosz – Up In The Clouds
John Prine – Glory of True Love
Jeffrey Foucault – Real Hard Thinking
Van Halen – Dance the Night Away
Cherry Glazerr – Rabbit Hole
Nilufer Yanya – Same Damn Luck
ASTU – Reckless
MF DOOM, Madlib – Accordion
Toots & The Maytals – Got to be Tough
The Avalanches – The Divine Chord
King Krule – Alone, Omen 3
Leaf Dog, Thirstin Howl the 3rd, BVA – Still Thirsty
MF DOOM, Badbadnotgood – The Chocolate Conquistadors
Lianne La Havas – Green Papaya
Nilufer Yaya – Day 7.5093
Toots & The Maytals – Pressure Drop
Van Halen – Mean Street
The Hold Steady – Family Farm
The Besnard Lakes – Feuds with Guns
John Prine – Boundless Love