This was a weird year for music, and it resulted in a playlist that is one of the shortest I've had in years. There are only 22 songs. The last time it was this short was 2012. This year did result in some of the most extraordinary albums I've collected in years, and it's wonderful and refreshing to have this situation.
It was a weak year for one-off singles, but that might be partly a discovery issue on my end. Neither of our cars have SiriusXM anymore, and while I was happy to pay for the streaming-only subscription, valuing that curated, DJ-driven experience, my beloved AltNation stopped appealing to me. Part of the problem is that they kept leaning into this homogenous emo crap that all sounds the same. For real, how many people does Travis Barker have to work with? But I also started to question their overall approach. They completely overlooked what was easily one of the best indie rock albums I've heard in years. So I reluctantly dropped them, relying on LiveXLive, formerly Slacker, which is what the cars use.
That best indie rock album? Blue Weekend by Wolf Alice. I'm not kidding when I say that it's likely to place as one of my all time favorites. I mean, I wrote an entire blog post just about it. There isn't a single throw-away song on it. Every one of them is good to great. The last time I was this obsessed over an album was probably 2013, when I listened to In Rolling Waves nonstop by The Naked And Famous. (Honorable mention that year also to Grouplove's Spreading Rumours.) Wolf Alice's previous albums were good, but they just leveled up to a totally new place. It really has everything, from throw down noise to piano ballads. It's so flipping good.
Garbage, still probably ranking as my favorite band of all time, released No Gods No Masters, and unfortunately, it wasn't what I hoped for. Over time, their previous 2016 album Strange Little Birds, ended up leap frogging to my second favorite by them after the debut, because it was very much Garbage but evolved and sharper and noisier. No Gods has some really good songs, but it's very uneven, and lyrically crosses into preachy and too direct. It feels like a social media rant, and not the deep and emotional art I'm used to. It's not a total loss, it's just not their best work.
The other big surprise this year was If I Can't Have Love, I Want Power from Halsey. I was kind of familiar with her from her appearances on SNL, and I had heard her in other places. She was hard to classify, but pretty cool. Then she had the Nine Inch Nails boys produce this album, and it's fucking fantastic. The Trent Reznor influence is obvious, but not overpowering. When you take an indie pop singer and songwriter and give her an industrial edge, it's magic.
Foo Fighters essentially made a dance album in Medicine At Midnight, and it too is fabulous, if a little short. Grouplove made another solid album, This Is This, but I keep wanting something as irresistible as Rumours from them. Lorde made a great album, and Billie Eilish did too, if a little on the slow side.
There were a few notable singles, right at the start of the year. Some usual favorites, like Alice Merton, Glass Animals, Fitz and The Tantrums, AJR and Beck (a little late on that one) landed in the list. I'm totally enamored with newcomer Beabadoobee. I also added the fun cat-sampled Meredith Bull song because it was stuck in my head, and I found that great cover of the play-off music from Come From Away.
So here you go... the short but solid list for 2021. Here's the playlist on YouTube.