[sic] Magazine

[sic] Writer Lists – Paul Lockett’s Albums of 2021

Paul Lockett’s Albums of 2021

1 Wolf Alice‘Blue Weekend’ (Dirty Hit)

This album from the London four-piece marks a huge step up from their previous two albums; their 2015 debut, ‘My Love Is Cool’ and 2017’s ‘Vision Of A Life’. Rather than simply adopting a “more of the same” approach, they’ve regrouped and almost completely reinvented themselves. The effort is obvious from the outset – the quality of the songwriting is simply on another level. They’ve fully considered the different layers of instrumentation – and in particular, Ellie’s vocals, which are often multi-layered and contain a lot more depth than during previous outings. Tracks such as ‘Lipstick On The Glass’, ‘The Last Man On Earth’ and ‘The Beach II’ shine – and arguably only ‘Play The Greatest Hits’ carries an early Wolf Alice punk energy aesthetic. This album should easily elevate them to headliner status across next year’s festival circuit.

2 White Flowers‘Day By Day’ (Tough Love)

If somebody in 2020 had told me that my number #2 spot in my following year’s Top Ten was from a duo from Preston in the North-West of England, I’d have been amazed. Preston isn’t exactly known for an outpouring of quality music – but White Flowers have delivered an album which sits sonically somewhere between shoegaze, Cocteau Twins and The XX – and it’s a fine record. I first heard this album back in the summer and it’s been a regular feature on my turntable ever since. They’re clearly lovers of guitar effects pedals and dry ice – and that’s absolutely to our benefit. Tracks such as ‘Different Time Different Place’ and the title track stand out on what is essentially an understated listen. This is one of those albums which you’ll find yourself playing several times during an evening, well into the small hours.

3 Manchester Orchestra‘The Million Masks Of God’ (Favorite Gentlemen)

I was introduced to this band via one of the many people in the music community on Twitter – and it’s been astounding me ever since. I likely avoided this band for years because I (wrongly) assumed that they’re an orchestra based out of Manchester. They’re neither. They’re actually a rock band from Atlanta, Georgia. This – as it turns out – is their seventh album. Sonically, it’s somewhere along the lines of [sic] favourites The Boxer Rebellion or maybe New Orleans band Mutemath, but they’re really strutting their own vibe here. Every song on the album deserves your attention – but a special mention should be made for ‘Angel Of Death’ and ‘Obstacle’.

4 The War On Drugs‘I Don’t Live Here Anymore’ (Atlantic)

I was late climbing onto The War On Drugs’ bandwagon. I picked up on them following their 2014 third album, ‘Lost In The Dream’, which is an astonishing record. That particular album was mentioned in a fair few ‘End Of Year’ polls that year – and I finally managed to see them live in 2018. The lazy comparisons to Springsteen and Dylan are kind of missing the point – the songs are often subtle, emotional and drive a story. ‘Rings Around My Father’s Eyes’ is a case in point (sample lyric: “I’ve never really known which way I’m facing but I feel like something’s changed. There’s a storm outside, my walls are ageing. They’re coming back down in the hardest way”). Elsewhere, tracks such as Occasional Rain & Harmonia’s Dream really drive home their Philadelphia sound with absolute conviction. It’s arguably a more commercially-led album than the last couple, but that’s no bad thing when the quality is this high.

5 The Weather Station‘Ignorance’ (Fat Possum)

I bought this on the strength of a review which mentioned later Talk Talk albums amongst the references. That’s often all it takes for me to buy an album. It does indeed kick off with a track (‘Robber’) which has definite Talk Talk tendencies – but it’s also very clear that they’re forging their own path. Tamara Lindeman’s sultry vocals carry the music well, adding a somewhat Joni Mitchell vibe to proceedings. The album doesn’t really let down its guard at all. The songs make for an endearing listen – and musically, there’s something for everybody, with a mixture of folk, jazz and post-rock herein.

6 Grasscut‘Haunts’ (Lo Recordings)

I bought this album (a limited-edition 10” lathe-cut vinyl of just fifty copies) on the strength of another recommendation from the Twitter music community. It’s arguably more of a mini-album, featuring just six songs – but the songs are simply delightful. It’s performed in a post-classical/experimental vibe, and there are multiple sampled voices across the album telling snippets from stories and describing places. It takes the template of Max Richter’s ‘The Blue Notebooks’, i.e. a progressive modern classical sound – and overlays this with voices, field noises and generally whatever they decide might enhance the final result. It’s a thrilling listen – and was actually one of two separate albums released by the Brighton-based duo in 2021.

7 Crowded House‘Dreamers Are Waiting’ (EMI)

I’ve seen hardly anybody writing about this album this year – which feels rather strange. Even on its release, it seemed to be practically ignored, which I fail to comprehend because it’s actually excellent. I struggled a little with their previous album, 2010’s ‘Intriguer’, but this very definitely refines the Neil Finn palette and finds the magic which was all over their earlier albums, including the beautiful ‘Together Alone’. ‘Playing With Fire’ and ‘Whatever You Want’ fire directly into classic Crowded House territory. I’m delighted they’re back – and with such a strong album too.

8 Poppy Ackroyd‘Pause’ (One Little Indian)

I love a bit of modern classical… In this case delivered from Edinburgh-based Poppy Ackroyd. She’s classically trained on piano & violin, and this album completely plays to her strengths. Its ten tracks span the kind of music which takes you to an altogether different place. It’s great late night music and superb relaxing music. Recommended for fans of Nils Frahm, Max Richter and Anna Rose Carter.

9 Indigo Sparke – ‘Echo’ (Sacred Bones)

Who knew that music which is so stripped back could also be so beautiful and haunting? This Sydney-based singer/songwriter’s debut album is packed solid with emotional songs. On ‘Everything Everything’ she delivers a song of such fragility, it simply holds you to the spot, transfixed. Elsewhere, ‘Golden Age’ takes us back to a time where quite honestly this timeless album could have been recorded. It’s mesmerising music which demands your attention.

10 Squirrel Flower‘Planet (i)’ (Full Time Hobby)

Squirrel Flower is the vehicle of Boston-based singer/songwriter Ella O’Connor Williams. This is her fourth album. Once again she delivers an album of minimalist, vocal-led songs which derive from folk and Americana. ‘Flames and Flat Tires’ and ‘Roadkill’ deliver the sound of middle America (even though it was recorded in Bristol, UK). Her dry, assertive take on life inhabits most of the songs here and are arguably a love letter to inner turmoil. It makes for a thrilling ride.

Numbers 11-20

11 Nils Frahm‘Tripping With Nils Frahm’ (Erased Tapes)
12 Grasscut‘Overwinter’ (Lo Recordings)
13 Beachy Head‘Beachy Head’ (Graveface Records)
14 Max Richter‘Voices 2’ (Deutsche Grammophon)
15 Cheval Sombre‘Time Waits For No One’ (Sonic Cathedral)
16 Flyying Colours‘Fantasy Country’ (Club AC30)
17 Dry Cleaning‘New Long Leg’ (4AD)
18 Mogwai‘As The Love Continues’ (Rock Action)
19 Piroshka‘Love Drips & Gathers’ (Bella Union)
20 Chvrches‘Screen Violence’ (Glassnote)