Another year passed, another list of the Best Music we listened to in 2021!
During the Covid19 period a lot of artists -with the lack of live gigs- had plenty of time to work on new ideas and release new music. It’s only reasonable for many artists to stay creative and productive, which is translated to a lot of new releases and sometimes multiple releases coming from one artist!
A quite welcoming process, if you ask me, because not only one can enjoy new music from his favourite artists, or discover new works, but also to support them in that time of need. Bandcamp did a lot around that, with the Bandcamp Fridays promotion throughout 2020 and 2021, and let’s hope for 2022 too.
Let’s cut to the chase, 2021 was a fruitful year as it was 2020, regarding the music releases and that’s the Top-20 list of albums that resonated with me all that time!
**Music Grounded wasn’t that active that passing year due to full-time parental duties. I’m trying my best for New Year! Best of wishes to you and your families and thank you for the support!**
1) Discodor – Discodor
The Anglo-French combination of Lee Skelly and Pierre Duplan led to the short-lived but exciting project of Discodor. After a couple of singles (the psychedelic funk of The Arrangement EP and the cinematic funk of Quattro EP), they released a melancholic and library-inspired debut of the same name and called it a day.
2) Sven Wunder – Natura Morta
Another year, another record for our beloved miracle man from Sweden, Sven Wunder. Natura Morta (Still Life in Italian) pays homage to the cinematic lounge Italian film soundtracks of the mid-60s to the mid-’70s, in a pluralistic and kaleidoscopic way that you can only fall in love for. Bullseye!
3) The Brkn Record – The Architecture of Oppression pt.1
The Brkn Record is the new project of Jake Ferguson from the Heliocentrics! Ferguson addresses the ongoing and systemic anti-black racism, social oppression, and state violence, both locally and globally, with his soulful music as a weapon. Psychedelic funk, soul, and spoken word, artistically interweaved with conscious, political lyrics! My cup of tea!
4) Embryo – Auf Auf
There’s absolutely no reason to get upset if the late Christian Burchard is no longer the band leader of Embryo. Marja, his daughter, is as creative and keeps the spirit alive. Jazz (from Marocco to Pakistan inspired) twists with prog rock and krautrock, resulting in an inimitable world fusion amalgamation honoring its roots.
5) Floating Points, Phaorah Sanders and The London Symphony Orchestra – Promises
Now what a huge meeting was that, right? Miles away from the weird electronic self of Floating Points and near the deep cosmic explorations of Pharoah, Promises is a record that stands there, atemporal and genre-melting, ready to be explored and to unlock itself to the patient listener. A moving, fragile yet dynamic masterpiece!
6) Irreversible Entanglements – Open The Gates
Irreversible Entanglements are already on their third album and they keep moving and evolving, sound-wise. The adventurous spirit is still alive and in vein to the free-jazz but enriched with a sparing emerge of the synthesizers to complete the claustrophobic compositional atmosphere. Moreover, the social claims are still there so the fight is still on.
7) Web Web x Max Herre – WEB MAX
Since 2017 Web Web has always delivered top-notch contemporary jazz albums. On Web Max, they join forces with composer, producer and rapper, Max Herre, for the great spiritual jazz work that this album is. The fact that Mulatu Astatke, Yusef Lateef, and Brandee Younger are also featured in it, makes it an even greater release!
8) Jaubi – Nafs At Peace
Jaubi, the instrumental jazz band from Lahore, Pakistan, releases their debut album and finally gets the recognition they deserve! It’s the point where Indian classical compositions stretch to meet improvisational Jazz, electronic music, and even hip-hop!
9) Anthony Joseph – The Rich Are Only Defeated When Running For Their Lives
Yet another social-oriented record? Anthony Joseph is not just that. A Trinidadian poet who moved to London, recorded three solo albums, published his numerous works of poetry, and teaches at a university. His latest output is an elegy to his roots and the “righteous rage”, as he puts it.
10) Blak Saagan – Se Ci Fosse La Luce Sarebbe Bellissimo
Wouldn’t it be great to be able to live the rise of the Italian psychedelic-occult soundtracks of the ’60s and the ’70s just when it happened? Samuele Gottardello aka Blak Saagan fulfills that special wish with that magnificent album of his. The fact that ”Se Ci Fosse La Luce Sarebbe Bellissimo” has been conceived as a soundtrack to an imaginary film about the abduction and subsequent killing of former Italian Prime Minister, Aldo Moro in 1978 by Red Brigades, only adds to the already haunting atmosphere of the record!
11) Madlib – Sound Ancestors
A new solo album by Madlib is surely one of the greatest news, let alone if the curations, selection, and production is charged to Four Tet! One of the best things in Madlib’s releases is the delicate sample selection and the rawness of the samples. Sound Ancestors meets those two standards among others and makes a unique masterpiece!
12) Stephan Micus – Winter’s End
I have always been intrigued by the releases of Stephan Micus and that has partly to do with the mystery that each of his records is covered. Micus often uses strange instruments from around the globe to evoke certain moods and Winter’s End is doing it exceptionally once again.
13) Little Simz – Sometimes I Might Be Introvert
It’s quite unusual for me to include a new age hip-hop album in my best-of lists but if there’s something I’m not in my life is narrow-minded and especially when we’re talking about music! So it totally makes sense for “Sometimes I Might Be Introvert” to be on my list as is the most fascinating album of the year. Majestic arrangements, cinematic production by the magic hands of Inflo, and bold yet sensitive statements of Little Simz in her most complete work to date.
14) Divorce From New York – Presents This Ain’t Jazz No More
Boy, I got excited with this one! Brings back a lot of 90’s electronic music memories and refreshes it so genuinely! Alvaro Granda (aka Kiko International) is the one half of Reykjavik606 and even though he keeps the downtempo and ambient-ish character of that project, he implants it with elements that span from Jazz to Jazz-Funk, to experimental, to House, etc. A cheerful and feel-good but also sophisticated release that deserves our attention!
15) MAST – Battle Hymns Of The Republic
As we witness the environmental crisis unfold, the pandemic unveils the harsh face of capitalism again and the economic crisis grows back hard, it’s only logical for artists to draw inspiration from that matter and interweaves it in their works. MAST, real name Timothy Conley, invests in that “dissident’s brew of critical environmental and socio-political issues of the day” and delivers his fourth album. Full of passionate jazz, immaculate orchestral arrangements and subtle electronic beats, Battle Hymns of The Republic addresses that daily struggle not only in the USA but globally.
16) Vanishing Twin – Ookii Gekkou
Vanishing Twin are on their third full album already! Each record is a new adventure stuffed with weird sounds, flirting with strange space-age worlds, and library-ish music effects. Ookii Gekkou is -to my ears- a pop-suite of interesting songwriting that greatly expands their typical sound from art-rock to MPB and back to experimental through Jazz. Not to be missed!
17) Dj Format – Devil’s Workshop
Having Matt Ford aka Dj Format back with a new album release is always welcoming, while each time it’s a whole new adventure of an immersive and revealing bunch of sounds. In addition to the skillful selection of the seemingly unmatched samples, there’s a deft production that runs throughout the album, which sticks everything together and makes it sound better as a conceptual work.
18) El Michels Affair – Yeti Season
Prolific producer, writer, arranger and multi-instrumentalist, Leon Michels’ and his band El Michels Affair, the last couple of years released three amazing albums, an EP, and a lot of 7” Singles. Yeti Season evolved from a 2018 single to a whole album and it’s full of psychedelic soul that twists together with Turkish Funk and makes a brilliant masterpiece!
19) Cult48 – Underground Signals From An Unknown Place
And suddenly we’re back in the ’90s and IDM is again in the game! It’s really impressive how similar they sound to BoC, but that would only be unfair since they further broaden their sound and offer more classic tracks to the process instead of just imitating. I couldn’t feel more excited about them, this year!
20) Glenn Fallows & Mark Treffel – The Globeflower Masters Vol.1
Imagine you’re in Rome enjoying your Espresso in one of the countless coffee shops near Piazza Navona, when in front of your eyes takes part a movie-like robbery scene, followed by the requisite police chase! I know exactly the kind of music that would fit in that scene and I’m pretty confident you know too. The Globeflower Masters Vol.1 not only is the ideal album to meet your expectations for an imaginary criminal chase Italian movie of the ’60s-’70s but also goes further with a mysterious touch, out from that long-gone yet charming eras.
Happy New Year!