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9 Great Records You May Have Missed: 2021

Year-end lists are always popular. Comparing your records to the rest of the music to determine if anything is missing is a self-serving activity. Here are nine tracks that you may not have heard about. They were either not on your mind when you were thinking or listening to music in 2021.

Anna B. Savage: A Typical Reversal of Fortune

Anna B Savage’s voice is the first thing you’ll notice when you listen to her songs. Her soaring alto on her debut album, A Common Turn, stands out in a sea of talented vocalists, and it elevates the songs’ emotional stakes from the get-go. Her voice shifts like the wind, from towering and almost operatic to quiet and nurturing, with varying degrees of purpose and majesty. The earthiness of her work is enhanced by her voice’s amazing flaws, which crumple and vibrate with exquisite imperfections, and her peculiar sense of melody creates an all-knowing, mysterious beauty. Because of this, the songs that she writes are even more poignant because they reveal how little she is able to make sense of things and struggle with the realities of everyday life.

Wolves Hex  by Wormwitch

Wormwitch’s multi-layered WOLF HEX melting pot swayed me from my typical preference for raw, cathartic, and atmospheric black metal. Vancouver-based heavy metal band Metal Blade integrated a wide range of inspirations into their sound without neglecting the importance of guitar riffs.

Lets it in by Breath panel

The Big Moon’s Soph Nathan fronts Our Girl, a band I fell in love with a few years ago. When Stranger Today was released last year, I was blown away by their heartfelt lyrics and stunning guitar work. My interest was piqued even more when I discovered that their bassist Josh Tyler also performs lead guitar in the band Breathe Panel, which prompted me to take them even further. Even though Sunday afternoon rock bands like Breathe Panel are known for making songs that are easy to predict as they progress, this UK band infuses their songs with subtle lyrical references. You never know when the riff will end or how many more pirouettes it will take, or even which sections of the song will be highlighted or lengthened. This album’s tracks are similarly well-crafted, with their vocal inflections peaking at just the appropriate moments and their guitar interplay being creative without being intrusive. While they’re aware of the aural world they’re within and the spectrum of emotional tones evoked by their sounds, the music they make retains a looseness despite their meticulous attention to detail. While Nick Green doesn’t go overboard with the speak-singing in their songs, he does occasionally use his natural hum to veer into the realm of the speak-singing, which is a nice touch. 

The Love Suite by Contour

Contour is a master at conjuring a melancholy, seductive atmosphere with his music. Love Suite builds on the rhythms and maturity of his modest production and writing, which were first introduced on South Carolina’s artist’s Weight EP.

Imaginary people by Charlie Martin

Folk-tinged indie rock band Hovvdy are making a name for themselves in Texas because of their unique take on the genre. Imaginary People, the first solo album by Charlie Martin (one-half of Hovvdy), eschews the band’s outlandish flourishes in favor of more understated piano and acoustic guitar pieces. Character sketches in Martin’s songs depict whimsical, warm-hearted people who live in rural environments, lending the CD a nostalgic feel. Despite the simplicity of the storytelling, the emotions in these stories are everything from infantile. Without looking excessively emotional, he manages to achieve this accomplishment by mixing powerful imagery with captivating tunefulness and appealing to our inherent emotions for home, love, and companionship. This album’s power is best exemplified by “Madison,” which evokes memories of one’s own childhood neighborhood, considers hard-to-swallow truths about adulthood and rests on easy-to-listen melodies. It’s a fun gesture to the Hovvdy world that the album’s references to the mysterious “Mr. Heavy” persona are entertaining.

Pale Horse Rider by Cory Hanson

On Pale Horse Rider, Wand vocalist Cory Hanson infuses emotion through country-tinged acoustic ballads backed by pedal steel guitar, piano, and his famously beguiling voice. While his debut solo LP on Wand was sparkling with dramatic orchestral orchestration. It’s a psychedelic record, but it’s not your typical “twangy psych” album. The imagery is thought stimulating and haunting, and the tracks lead you on unexpected musical detours, like “Angels,” “Necklace,” and the exquisite, laborious guitar wails of “Another Story From The Center of the Earth. This record is a mind-numbing immensity, yet it’s also full of personal and profound thoughts expressed in creative, strange words. 

Three little Words by Dominique Fils-Aimé

This is Dominique Fils-Aimé at her best on her latest album and the concluding piece of her three-album series. However, the album Three Little Words is also a magnificent collection of songs and performances that serves as a reminder to the aesthetic depth and enduring force of African-American musical traditions. Fill-distinctive Aime’s sound is defined by her beautiful, layered vocals, which are punctuated by jazz, R & B, pop and doo-wop-inspired flourishes. Over horns and deep bottom tones, her voice is compassionate and skilled, telling stories of interpersonal and generational endurance. Handclaps and dulcet melodies harken back to the golden age of girl groups, but there are also primitive African drums and didgeridoo thrown in for good measure. 

Theory of Ice by Leanne Betasamosake

In some ways, Indigenous poet Leanne Betasamosake Simpson’s poems are disorienting, but that’s part of their allure. You can’t help but be baffled and inspired by their mix of familiar and unfamiliar words. Poet Lisa Simpson’s latest album, Theory of Ice, features seven of her poems, in which she compares ice meltdown to the “departure of skin from bone,” Honoring nature’s beauty and truth while condemning settler colonial violence—capitalism, environmental devastation, cynically created barriers to community—is a superb use of poetic techniques by her. Songs like “I Pity the Country,” a version of Willie Dunn’s anti colonialist protest song, accompany her lyrics, which Simpson performs in front of an ensemble that plays folky, airy instruments that convey an air of art-pop mystery.

Coupon by Skydeck

Electropop and post-punk are two distinct genres, although Skydeck’s groovy, pop-oriented music fits somewhere in between the two. Their songs are as sharp-tongued and stylistically captivating as they are armed with a deep awareness of our dismal economic realities and relatable anxieties about the future. “Dogshot,” the first song on Coupon, by the Australian pair, is a perfect example of this unique blend of humour and earworm-y pleasure. A sterile, outdated shine permeates their work, but the band’s guitars give distorted dynamics and a much-needed rawness. A big portion of their songs’ versatility is due to the band’s vocalists’ opposing vocal styles: Dom Kearton sings in a melodic pop manner while Mitch Clemens uses a deep, confident voice. Skydeck’s joyful skills are sometimes overshadowed by Coupon’s sad character, but don’t discount its therapeutic pout. This album’s final two tracks, “Uptight” and “Anthony,” bring it all to a satisfying conclusion. As with many of us, the band finds itself on the precipice of two worlds: “a better world is possible” and “we’re beyond fucked,” and while this album won’t push you in any particular direction, maybe it’s enough to know we’re not alone—but if it’s not, holy hell, Skydeck are just plain good at pop music.

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