[sic] Magazine

[sic] Writer Lists – Neil Meehan’s Albums Of 2021

As with the previous year, 2021 thankfully saw lots of great music released to aid outside world tribulations, with recent end-of-year-listers Elbow, Goat Girl, Parquet Courts, Vanishing Twin and Shame each providing strong records, amongst many others. Arlo Parks is my #1, the records thereafter in alphabetical order.

Arlo ParksCollapsed In Sunbeams

Not previously on [sic]’s radar, Arlo Parks joined the playlist in January and has never left. Collapsed In Sunbeams has since gone on to win the Mercury Prize and be Grammy-nominated; Parks herself landed a Best New Artist BRIT, alongside countless other accolades, nominations and critical responses. Rightly so, too, as the Londoner’s debut album combines storytelling and songwriting – often of a personal, poignant nature – exquisitely.

Stephen FretwellBusy Guy

Singer-songwriter Fretwell surprised almost everyone in 2021 by releasing Busy Guy, following fourteen years of being – publicly at least – not particularly ‘busy’. Less of a surprise was its quality, Fretwell’s knack of voice and guitar remaining so magnetic. “Hey man! Where’s the money gone? I was in the drink, I was swimming on” reveals Fretwell in ‘The Long Water’. When a second instrument does make a rare appearance, despite having the orchestra to choose from, the minimalist choice is equally-perfect each time. “I should have written all this down, I forget it all now,” he reveals on closing track ‘Green’, leaving in those slightly imperfect guitar picks for that emotive, authentic, one-take feel.

The Joy FormidableInto The Blue

The Welsh trio make a thunderous return with this album of post-punk shoegaze, the standout title-track firing a ferocious five-minute wall of guitar, Ritzy Bryan’s vocals resting elegantly atop.

Lightning BugA Color Of The Sky

A seemingly splendid summer soundtrack upon its release, revisiting the dream-pop of A Color In The Sky proves that the New York band’s third album fits winter equally well.

Manic Street PreachersThe Ultra Vivid Lament

“We live in Orwellian times…” sings James Dean Bradfield on ‘Orwellian’, the past eighteen months seemingly inspiring much of this record. And if yet another great Manics album – so soon after 2018’s return-to-form Resistance Is Futile – is in direct retaliation to the government’s handling of recent events, then we can at least be thankful for one response to the pandemic.

Maxïmo ParkNature Always Wins

Paul Smith and co. return with an album of spiky guitar alt-pop gems, which narrowly missed the UK no. 1 spot. “If I become the joke, can I still deliver the punchline?” asks Smith on ‘Ardour’. For the Newcastle band, it is countless smiles – not laughter – they will need to deal with following this great album.

MogwaiAs The Love Continues

Guitar-led post-rock soundscapes is what Mogwai does, right? The Glasgow band’s 10th record does feature some vocals, but its epic climbing and descending of musical mountains soundtracked those long winter stay-at-home times perfectly. And then it topped the UK charts to become their most successful yet.

Caoilfhionn RoseTruly

Taking inspiration from the nature around her, Manchester singer-songwriter Rose planned to offer some hope with her second album. Truly provides exactly that: an uplifting record of folk instrumentation, falsetto flourishes and psychedelic swirls, Rose’s vocal the central, standout feature.

Gruff RhysSeeking New Gods

The sometime-Super Furry frontman continues his prolific solo streak, surpassing recent releases with Seeking New Gods, which brims with Rhys-trademark West Coast melodies, plentiful upbeat rhythms provided largely on piano, and augmented throughout by a fuzzy synth, providing summery solos.

Jane WeaverFlock

Incorporating elements of funk, Black Cherry-esque electro, krautrock wig-outs and everything in between on the psych spectrum, this glorious record is unified by great songs and melodies throughout, resulting in Weaver’s best yet.