End-of-year lists help me find music I missed, or prod me to listen again, more closely, to albums I may have dismissed too quickly. I heard 127 full albums that came out in 2021. It’s a challenge to pick out the albums that were fresh, distinctive, original, best. I enjoy the process of puzzling it out for myself. What am I saying? I guess I’m a cliche.
For the third consecutive year, I continued the project in which I try to listen to at least one complete album a day. Often twice through. In 2019, I got to 778 full albums, in addition to all the other random-scattered listening I do. Last year the number was 711. In 2021, I listened to 702 complete albums, starting with “Truth Walks in Sleepy Shadows” by SF Seals and concluding with “Living in the Material World” by George Harrison. For no rhyme whatsoever.
It was a pandemic year in music and many albums felt scaled back, smaller in ambition, more intimate and modest. Logistics played a role. And, also, context: people were dying; the world in general felt more introspective. For whatever reason, I don’t think this was a year when many truly “great” albums came out.
Jimmy Fun Fact: When I got my iPod in April, 2008, I started making a 30-song monthly playlist. Part of that was a response to having nearly everything available instantaneously. Each month, I created a little home base full of new music as well as old reminders. I have now kept that up, switching to Spotify in 2017, for 165 straight months. Maybe that tells you something scary about me? As always, I don’t pretend that my taste is any better than anyone else’s.
Floating Points, Pharaoh Sanders: Promises
Julien Baker: Little Oblivians
Helado Negro: Far In
Black Country, New Road: For the first time
Mdou Moctar: Afrique Victime
Jack Ingram, Miranda Lambert: The Marfa Tapes
Vijay Iyer, Tyshawn Sorry, Linda Oh: Uneasy
Cassandra Jenkins: An Overview of … Nature
Madlib: Sound Ancestors
Katy Kirby: Cool Dry Place
Dry Cleaning: New Long Leg @ 2021
Arooj Aftab: Vulture Prince
Arlo Parks: Collapsed in Sunbeams
Hayes Carll: You Get It All
Indigo De Souza: Any Shape You Take
Bonnie Prince Billy, Matt Sweeney: Super-wolves
Sons of Kemet: Black to the Future
Michael Hurley: The Time of the Foxgloves
Myriam Gendron: Songs of Love, Lost & Found
HONORABLE MENTIONS (35)
Note: Ditching categories here because they give me such trouble. In alphabetical order . . .
Rodrigo Amarante: Drama
Amyl and the Sniffers: Comfort to Me
Marisa Anderson/William Tyler: Lost Futures
Bachelor: Doomin’ Sun
Courtney Barnett: Things Take Time, Take Time
Adrian Crowley: Watchful Eyes of the Stars
Lana Del Rey: Chemtrails Over the Country Club
Dinosaur Jr.: Sweep It Into Space
Felice Brothers: From Dreams to Dust
Les Filles de Illighadad: At Pioneer Work
Flock of Dimes: Head of Roses
Hand Habits: Fun House
Illuminati Hotties: Let Me Do One More
Pokey LaFarge: In the Blossom of Their Shade
Langhorne Slim: Strawberry Mansion
Little Simz: Sometimes I Might Be an Introvert
Lorde: Solar Power
Low: Hey What
Mountain Goats: Dark In Here
Navy Blue: Navy’s Reprise
Robert Plant, Alison Krauss: Raise the Roof
Gavin Preller: There Is Wonder
Allison Russell: Outside Child
Sturgill Simpson: Ballad of Dood & Juanita
Sonny & The Sunsets: New Day New Possibilities
Jazmine Sullivan: Heaux Tales
Tyler the Creator: Call Me If You
Adia Victoria: A Southern Gothic
Villagers: Fever Dreams
Nick Waterhouse: Promenade Blue
Yasmin Williams: Urban Driftwood
Faye Webster: I Know I’m Funny haha
Wolf Alice: Blue Weekend
Steve Earle: JT (covers album)
A beautiful tribute to his son, Justin Townes Earle, who died from a drug overdose. The last song, the only original, “Last Words,” slays me every time.
ABOUT MY “NOT NEW” INTERESTS
Because I’ve now got this large file on my desktop, and I’m insane, I noted the not-necessarily-new artists I listened to most widely (by the arbitrary measure of at least 5 different full albums over the past three years). This list also reflects little jags I went on, where I’d get inspired and go deep on, say, Warren Zevon or Rickie Lee Jones, for extended periods.
5X: Don Cherry * Bill Evans * Ahmad Jamal * Laura Cannell * Grouper *William Tyler * The Byrds * Hot Tuna * Bruce Springsteen * Steely Dan * Tom Waits * The Who * Bruce Cockburn * Joe Henry * Paul Simon * Jeff Tweedy * Courtney Barnett * Beach House * Bright Eyes/Conor Oberst/Better Oblivion Community * Death Cab for Cutie * Decemberists * Giant Sand * Robyn Hitchcock * Microphones/Mount Eerie * Silver Jews * Sufjan Stevens * Sun Kil Moon * Teenage Fanclub *Hayes Carll * Jason Isbell *Laura Marling/Lump * Alasdair Roberts * 6X: John Coltrane * Charles Mingus * Nick Lowe * Lou Reed * R.E.M. * Leonard Cohen * Joni Mitchell * Alex G * Yo La Tengo * Jayhawks * Lucinda Williams * Sam Amidon * 7X: Thelonious Monk * Brian Eno * Frank Zappa * Rickie Lee Jones * Ryan Adams * Lambchop * Drive-By Truckers * Magnolia Electric Company/Songs:Ohia * 8X: Beatles * David Bowie * Kinks * Van Morrison * Bonnie Prince Billy/Palace Music * Mountain Goats * Steve Earle * Willie Nelson * 9X: Warren Zevon * Elliott Smith/Heatmiser * Kanye West * 10X-plus: Grateful Dead * John Prine * Wilco * Miles Davis * Rolling Stones * Neil Young * Bill Callahan/Smog * Bob Dylan.
Yes, I listened to 49 different Dylan albums over the past three years, often more than once.
CONCLUSION: It’s an impossible task, a fool’s errand, keeping track of things. It’s Schrodinger’s cat. Altered simply by being observed. I think I’ve gotten better at that, not thinking about the document as much as the moment. Screw it, I want to hear The Steve Miller Band right now and I don’t care what that does to the list. Nobody cares what I like or dislike, whether I have “good taste” or bad. The best part is the music itself, and the artists who put it out into our world. Always grateful for that.