Another pandemic year. Another set of new album releases for us to mull over amid Covid lockdowns and while standing in line for a vaccination.
But unlike 2020 there has been some hope for a brighter future in compiling out Best Albums of 2021 list and music played a big part in that.
Gigs were back! And many delayed albums were eventually recorded and released.
We think our list reflects the year well and how thoughtful we have all become about our strange new post-pandemic world.
Please sit back, or get up and dance, as you enjoy Neonfiller’s Best Albums of 2021 list.
10. Arab Strap – As Days Get Dark
As comeback’s go, Arab Strap’s first album in 16 years is right up there with the best. Dark humour and swearing from singer Aidan Moffatt as well as great production make this a stand out of the year. The Turning of Our Bones is one of many fine tracks that provide an excellent soundtrack to 2021.
9. The Reds, Pinks & Purples – Uncommon Weather.
Like so many acts on Slumberland Records The Reds, Pinks & Purples sound like a Sarah Records time capsule from the mid-80s. In the hands of singer/songwriter Glenn Donaldson that is a very good thing. Uncommon Weather is the third album by the band and the best yet. Songs like ‘I Hope I Never Fall In Love’ and ‘The Record Player and the Damage Done’ showcase his knack for sweet melodies and bittersweet lyrics.
8. The Mountain Goats – Dark in Here
Given the world has gone insane due to the pandemic, many bands have struggled to release albums this year. Incredibly, The Mountain Goats released three albums in 2021 and Dark in Here is the pick of the bunch.
“Quieter, Smokier, but more deeply textured and intense,” was the aim during recording, according to the band. And they certainly delivered.
Read our full review here.
7. Mac Mccaughan – The Sound of Yourself
The Merge Records founder and Superchunk front-man has released a number of solo records as well as a bunch of albums with his Portastatic side-project. This album has a bit of a feel of songs from both of those projects.
It certainly doesn’t rock like a Superchunk album but it mixes some great guitar pop like ‘Circling Around’, alongside some instrumentals and keyboard lead tunes. With ‘I Hear A Radio’ he expertly emulates New Order to great effect. Members of his main band, the Mountain Goats, Torres and Yo La Tengo all show up to add vocals and instruments across the album.
6. Arlo Parks – Collapsed in Sunbeams
Arlo Parks is living the dream, with her debut Collapsed in Sunbeams winning this year’s Mercury Music Prize and a Grammy nomination. Intimate, vulnerable lyrics and vocals backed by great music, produced by Gianluca Buccellati, proves a perfect blend. Hurt is one of many, many highlights.
We can all feel a little vulnerable at times, especially amid a global pandemic. This album is one of many on our list that captures the mood of 2021 perfectly.
5. Wolf Alice – Blue Weekend
Stadium sized anthems and beautiful melancholic moments, such as on single The Last Man on Earth, make Blue Weekend one of the stand out releases of the year. This should come as no surprise as Wolf Alice’s trajectory since forming more than a decade ago has been immense.
This third album from the band is their best yet. But by the time they hang up their guitar strings its unlikely to be their career high. Blue Weekend feels like the first stage in an even larger ascent for one of the UK’s best bands. Even better albums are on the horizon.
4. The Go! Team – Get Up Sequences Part One
There are so many great little musical moments in every song on this latest upbeat release from The Go! Team. It sounds exactly like them but manages to never sound anything other than fresh. If you aren’t smiling throughout I don’t know what to say.
I’ve heard in some reviews that people find the constant upbeat vibe of the album a bit much. I couldn’t agree less, I find it infectious and I can’t remember the last time that I enjoyed an album more. A more than worth entrant in our Best Albums of 2021 list.
Read our full review here.
3. Pip Blom – Welcome Break
We love an ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ style second album and with Welcome Break Pip Blom have stuck to the winning formula that made their debut Boat one of our favourites from last year.
We said of their 2020 debut it was “one of the most enjoyable, and freshest, releases of the year”. Fast forward a year and we can simply repeat that line regarding this latest by the Amsterdam four-piece, which is named after their singer and songwriter Pip Blom.
Once again its an indie pop by numbers album. But why not?
Quiet verse, soaring chorus. It’s a tried and tested technique that works wonders when played well. And Dutch popsters Pip Blom certainly do that.
Read our full review of this Best Albums of 2021 release here.
2. Field Music – Flat White Moon
The Sunderland band have long been inventive with pop. Prince one minute, King Crimson the next. Or was it Talking Heads I just heard? Or XTC?
Above all they are like a UK version of Medications, the US band whose quirky, jerky style adorns all the Brewis’ albums.
Flat White Moon is among their most Medications-y yet. The short songs of two to three minutes, veer this way and that. They pack so much into each track.
Opener Orion From the Street sounds like a pop band floating down a river. Do Me A Favour brings the acoustic guitar out. Reminiscent of Them That Do Nothing, from their 2010 album Measure.
Read our full review here.
1. Dry Cleaning – New Long Leg
Someone morosely and cynically recounting how they have scabs on their head over a new wave track from 1981 perhaps shouldn’t work in 2021.
But it so does.
In fact it’s probably the most exciting thing we’ve heard all year, especially as we still battle through the trials and tribulations of pandemic.
New Long Leg plays out like we all feel amid the health crisis. Trying to make sense of it all amid meandering distractions – in this case wonderful music.
The early 80s feel to the music using simple rhythms and great riffs sits perfectly with Florence Shaw’s cynical vocals.
Scratchcard Lanyard and Strong Feelings are among many highlights.
Listening to Dry Cleaning I’m reminded of the art school, original rock of the great Athens GA band Pylon, who also captured their era perfectly.
A worthy, original, perfect album of the year.
Compiled by Joe Lepper and Dorian Rogers