Daniel’s Top 31 Albums of 2021

Places 20 to 6

20: Emma Ruth Rundle – Engine of Hell (Singer-Songwriter / Indie Folk)

A careful, tentative and deeply intimate set of ballads are only fitting for ERR’s latest poetry, open and reflective. This is an album with zero excess, an album of pains being showed for what they are, honest scars laid out to view, and Rundle is honest with her hesitancy to show them. Subtle ticks and strains give away the struggle behind the reflection.

There is no effort made to guise any of it. No drums, no tricks of genre, just a live recording of someone who has decided to portray several of her harshest pasts. And this album holds a notable weight with that. One which takes a lot of strength to carry.

19: Rinuwat – Dua naga (Post-Metal / Javanese Folk)

Now this is what I live for. A fusion of traditional Javanese folk elements with the stylings of post-metal and many other subgenres on the more extreme end of the metal spectrum. Yet the result is something that really can’t be described using just its components. This is a new sound, a new album. Ritualistic and holding a deep respect for the space it takes up, both geographically and sonically. At the same time, it is wholly evolutionary and wild. Rinuwat have instantly shot themselves up to must-listens.

18: So Hideous – None but a Pure Heart Can Sing (Screamo / Blackgaze)

I don’t know what exactly it is about So Hideous, but their sound has me absolutely hooked. It’s a very grand, theatrical and direct stab at blackgaze that shoots more for the vibe of post-rock in many respects. On this album in particular, that sound seemingly drops the post-black pretence entirely and settles for a final flavour of screamo. It’s aim seems to be “spectacle” and it certainly hits the mark. This ended up working much better for me as a guy who has been gradually falling off the black metal train for a couple years now. And while I’m not sure if I prefer this over the more free-flowing nature of Laurestine, it still has me caught perfectly in that highly specific zone that only So Hideous have managed to hit thus far.

17: Every Time I Die – Radical (Metalcore)

It’s a shame that this ended up being the final ETID album, as this is one of the finest examples of “pure metalcore done right” that you will find anywhere. There are no major left-field measures being taken here. No revolutions of the style, no gimmicks of instrumentation. What is here, is incredible writing, incredible performance and production that gives the music exactly the tone it needs. The energy is infectious, and it hits the sweet spot between metal and punk with an unflinching bullseye. Songwriting is key, and ETID have it down pat.

16: Lou Kelly and Friends – Shriek (Mathcore / look I don’t know ok just roll with it)

And the award for most apt album title goes to…

My pet theory for this album is that even the creators didn’t realise how good it was until it was done. It’s got an utterly charming DIY feel while still feeling polished to a mirror sheen, which is hilarious considering the absolute madness on display here. The vocal onslaught from every angle works perfectly with this at times tribal, at times garage-y take on mathcore. I genuinely don’t think I’ve heard anything quite like this before, and it’s all the better for it. It’s as engaging as it is ridiculously fun.

Some people wanted to make funny noises together. Then they made excellence.

15: 池田亮司 (Ikeda Ryōji) – Superposition (Glitch / Microsound)

Yes, there are two Ryoji Ikeda albums on this list. The guy just knows how to bend my ear. Though in this case, it’s more that he’s tickling my ear with a level of microscopic detail I haven’t quite heard since 2005’s Dataplex.

Superposition is the albumised version of 2012 audio-visual performance which I have long wanted to experience yet never had the chance to. Thankfully it’s also exactly as good as I would’ve hoped. Duelling voices of glitched out miniature beads of sound clash, intertwine, distinguish and eventually meld together across ambient drones and subtle backdrops. Sometimes it feels like a call and response of morse code, sometimes it feels like quick jabs in a clash of atomic sized beings, sometimes it feels like two voices just singing alongside each other. The whole time however, there is such intricacy to the sound that it is utterly engaging for those who like to fixate on these things, much like myself.

The only reason this doesn’t go much higher on the list, however, is that it is clearly only one component of an ultimately audiovisual experience, and there are a good few times in the music where it feels like sight is meant to contribute a little more than sound, and the complex mechanisms of the music repeat enough to become merely ambience after a while. Perhaps that’s why the album isn’t ordinarily available digitally on any official level, instead opting to be solely available as a physical CD with a booklet providing insight into many of the other components of the performance.

However, overall, this still remains one of my favourite Ikeda projects, and certainly my favourite in a long time.

14: Panam Panic – Love of Humanity (Nu Jazz)

I’ve somewhat fallen off the jazz wagon this year. Perhaps it’s because a lot has been going on my life, but I’ve been feeling a bit alienated by a lot of the denser, more chaotic jazz that usually catches my ear.

So of course my favourite jazz album this year is nu jazz, a genre I’ve usually been not too keen on. But Panam Panic have created an album with infectious energy, incredible grooves and a great sense of wonder that I’ve rarely heard in the genre. I love both the creative musicianship and the immersive atmosphere on display here. Please don’t mistake me, even if my priorities towards jazz hadn’t shifted this year, this album would still be near the top of this list. Of that I’m sure.

13: Squid – Bright Green Field (Art Punk / Post-Punk)

This is an utterly off-kilter piece of punkish excellence. I use the word “punkish” because this certainly isn’t an album trying to fit any sort of genre-mould, musically. The punkish resilience is the most common thread, however. Wandering throughout the labyrinths of krautrock, post-rock, noise and prog, there is a sincere and direct heart that smashes through concrete with the tact of a bulldozer. This is a phenomenal debut album, and I’m certainly excited to see where these Brighton lads go next.

12: Lantlôs – Wildhund (Alt Metal / Post-Metal / Shoegaze)

Lantlôs were already in my good books as one of the few bands that exactly struck my preferred balance in the early days of blackgaze, even if that was only for a few songs on Melting Sun. That said, when the talk around their follow-up 7 years later started bringing up mentions of a toning down and comparisons to Deftones, I was admittedly a bit hesitant to really dig into this one.

Thankfully I did. It seems that even with the notable stylistic shift, the core of what I loved about the band on Melting Sun has remained fully intact, and has possibly even been refined. Yes, the Deftones comparisons are apt, but this is far from an imitator. Tracks like “Lake Fantasy”, “Vertigo” and “Lich” are highlights of the whole year, and the dense atmosphere of this album hits on all the strengths of its influences perfectly.

11: Iglooghost – Lei Line Eon (Glitch Hop / Progressive Electronic)

I’ve struggled with really getting myself invested in Iglooghost’s music in the past. At times it felt abrasive and esoteric simply for the point of being abrasive and esoteric, and while it was certainly a fun auditory experience, it lacked the through-line that kept it from feeling like any more than an experiment.

With this album though, that through-line seems to be the focus of the whole album. The deconstructions of sound and glitches galore are still ever-present, but it feels like Iglooghost has taken a note from Kashiwa DAISUKE’s Program Music series with Lei Line Eon, as this album carries the same feeling of wild, vivid wonder that ebbs and flows from the background to the foreground of the music with ease. This consistent sense of exploration sets the perfect counterpoint to Iglooghost’s more abrasive tendencies and gives context to the chaos. This is all I needed to hook me wholesale.