It’s that time again where I sit down and write endless text about the year that was. Mostly in music, where I count down my top albums of the year but also anything else that happens to spray from the keyboard.
Reading through last year’s list is pretty hilarious as I recount the horror year we all had dealing with the 2020 version of COVID. I guess it was a new and very scary thing but 2020 was just an inconvenience compared to the 2021 edition. I shouldn’t whinge too much as who knows what I’ll be writing about next year?
I will anyway.
Greg Allan was stranded at home for most of 2021 as the pandemic ranged on. He lost motivation for music and feared his popular annual album countdown wouldn’t eventuate. He managed to scrape it together. Here are the albums you NEED to listen to to start 2022. Pictured: Amyl and the Sniffers
We got through our long lockdowns in Sydney and Melbourne – and apart from a few ‘suburban experts’, we all got vaccinated. We now have a whole raft of new issues to deal with but I might save that for next year’s list. The lockdowns were much longer this time around and obviously the experience was harder for some of us. I suppose mine wasn’t hard, I was always employed, vaccinated and never in too much danger as I was able to work from home.
Music was a real wasteland for me too. I listen to most of my music in the car and I wasn’t going anywhere so the only time I got to listen to new music was on the bush walks that most of Sydney were going on at the time. There was music at my place during this period but not the post punk and indie gloom that I’m fond of. No. The music that was constantly played was the Foxtel Stingray Music Channels.
If you’re like me and don’t go much past Fox Sports on the TV remote, you probably don’t know that these things exist. It’s just music, no videos, as it was decided that videos were too distracting. There’s lots of channels to choose from – 80s, 90s, 2000s, Classic Rock, Alt Rock, Love Songs etc. My personal favourite was the 80’s channel. I’m a child of the 80’s and like most of the music from that decade even though some of it is probably just as rubbish as the worst stuff from any decade. Still, I didn’t mind it – even if I did feel like one of the people I was bagging last year for listening to Smooth 95.3.
Occasionally you’d hear a few 80s gems amongst the Whitney Houston and REO Speedwagon. But things weren’t always great in the world of Foxtel Music. At times, I might come back from an exciting trip from the garbage bin to find my wife, who was obviously sick of The Human League and Spandau Ballet, had decided to change it to the 2000s channel. Suddenly a decade of commercial music that I had managed to avoid my whole life was now front and centre in my lounge room. Shockers like Pink, Ed Sheeran, Ricky Martin, Taylor Swift and – yes, even Holly Valance – were blaring from our poor quality TV speakers in all their dull and boring glory.
Greg listens to most of his music in the car – which hardly left the driveway last year. Instead, he found himself drawn to a surprising new avenue for music discovery: Foxtel Music channels – except when his wife would switch it to the dreaded 2000s channel. Pictured: ‘Uncool Dad’ Greg
It was enough to make you stick your Apple pencil in your ear.
Finally, we’re moving onto the countdown. Last year I got a bit of a thrill when the list was published in the public domain. I felt like I’d really made it when a few sharp punters on the Daily Mail website stopped by to make snide remarks.It was an interesting feeling having your writing slagged off by complete strangers but not at all a bad one. It’s not like what they said was unfair and at least they took the time to read, right?
At the time of writing, I still haven’t decided which is the best album but I’m confident that there’s at least 10 very good ones here. As usual, I’ll start off with the ones that had the least impact on me and a few releases thatdon’t really qualify for the top 10. Amongst the work of the artists on here, it’s very obvious how much Covid has affected them and their writing.
I thought I’d kick things off with a few worthy releases that aren’t technically albums.
Car Seat Headrest – MADLO – Influences
Car Seat Headrest – MADLO makes the EP list, for albums that don’t qualify as LPs. Greg disagrees with the internet hipsters who hated this four-track covers up, featuring renditions of Bowie, Kate Bush, Nine Inch Nails and Who
I’m not sure what the MADLO is (I’m not interested enough to look it up) but this is basically a short covers EP from Car Seat Headrest, Most of the internet hipsters hated this, but I enjoyed it as it has four songs (Bowie – Golden Years, Who – Substitute, Kate Bush – Running Up That Hill, Nine Inch Nails – March Of The Pigs) that I like in their own right covered by a band I like. My favourite was the Kate Bush one and it had me seeking out the brilliant original again. The songs aren’t too different from what you already know but it is worth listening to if you like Car Seat Headrest.
Car Seat Headrest – ‘Running Up That Hill’
Johnny Marr – Fever Dreams Part 1
Johnny Marr – Fever Dreams Part 1. ‘If you like Johnny Marr, you’ll like this. The songs have a little bit of a dated style, sometimes sounding a little 90’s Brit pop-rock but his excellent songwriting and guitar work is always present’
Everyone who knows me knows how important Johnny Marr is to me. I’ve followed his whole career but have never paid too much attention to his solo stuff until fairly recently. It’s very good but probably not anywhere near as special as the work he’s done with the many bands he’s been in. If you like Johnny though, you’ll like this. The songs have a little bit of a dated style, sometimes sounding a little 90’s Brit pop-rock but his excellent songwriting and guitar work is always present.
Enslaved – Caravans To The Outer Worlds
Enslaved are one of my favourite metal bands, they’re always putting stuff out and have a massive catalogue of excellent work. I didn’t listen to this one too much but I’m listening to it as I type. It’s slightly heavier than their recent releases, which isn’t a bad thing. These guys always deliver.
Beach House – Once Twice Melody
Beach House – Once Twice Melody. ‘Beach House still have that atmospheric, dreamy sound which they do so well and are perfect if that’s what you’re after’
I came across this EP late in the year (which is releasing as an album in four parts, with two parts still to come ) and gave it a listen knowing how much I used to like them. They still have that atmospheric, dreamy sound which they do so well and are perfect if that’s what you’re after. This sounded good but it didn’t really grab me but that was mainly because I probably didn’t listen enough to appreciate it fully.
HighSchool – Forever At Last
This is a cool little EP from Melbourne group HighSchool. I was certain they were from overseas on first listen, but no. These guys have very clear influences, having that dark synth sound that I’m fond of that was made famous by groups like Joy Divsion, Depeche Mode, New Order and Sisters Of Mercy. I think these guys particularly like Joy Divison as they have that prominent bass and distant vocals. The songs and the production are great and range from desperate and gothic sounding to quite poppy. If you like this genrethen this is worth a listen.
HighSchool – De Facto
These are albums that I listened to and enjoyed throughout the emptiness that was 2021. There’s not one on here that I didn’t like. I’ve missed more than usual but here goes.
Still Corners – The Last Exit
Still Corners – The Last Exit. ‘I think this would be quite nice to have on in the background. In a leaner year, this would have ranked higher but for now it’s just a pleasant-sounding indie CD.’
Still Corners have quite a traditional dreamy indie sound, similar to the likes of Mazzy Star or Beach House but they seem to borrow from a lot of artists. They’re good to listen to but it wasn’t something that affected me greatly. I think this would be quite nice to have on in the background. In a leaner year, this would have ranked higher but for now it’s just a pleasant-sounding indie CD.
Steven Wilson – The Future Bites
Steven Wilson – The Future Bites. ‘There’s no doubt Steven Wilson is a great songwriter but I wouldn’t want to stack the dishwasher at his place – I’m sure regardless of the effort you put up with he would have to do it his way. A real perfectionist’
This one was released very early in 2021 and I almost forgot about it given the lockdown’s ability to shift time in uncommon ways. Everything before it seems like ancient history. This one was supposed to be put out in 2020 but Steven Wilson, being the very precise artist he is, held it over to this year because he couldn’t do it justice in the studio with all the hold-ups Covid caused. There’s no doubt Steven Wilson is a great songwriter but I wouldn’t want to stack the dishwasher at his place – I’m sure regardless of the effort you put up with he would have to do it his way. A real perfectionist. I certainly would never do something as petty as re-stack a dishwasher…
Back to the album, it’s good but very produced. Not quite commercial but very clean I don’t like it as much as some of his older solo releases but the songs are still high quality. Apparently, (his old band) Porcupine Tree have reformed so that might help to bring things back to the grass roots of what makes his music so good.
Tropical F*ck Storm – Deep States
Tropical F*ck Storm – Deep States. ‘Some very interesting and chaotic sounds on here – very popular with the critics, just not that popular with me’
Tropical F*ck Storm are not a new band but will always be the new incarnation of The Drones to me. Like a lot of music this year, I probably didn’t give it the listens it deserved and it got pushed back in the pecking order as result. Also, I think a band like TFS need a bit of dedication to fully appreciate them. Still, some very interesting and chaotic sounds on here – very popular with the critics, just not that popular with me.
Parquet Courts – Sympathy For Life
Parquet Courts – Sympathy For Life. ‘It didn’t grab me straight away but it wasn’t long before I was tapping and singing along to this and getting into the big choruses and poppy melodies. Really fun and enjoyable’
Parquet Courts are a very likeable and inoffensive band. They specialise in catchy indie songs with uplifting beats, not the sort of music you’d find at your local Goth club. It didn’t grab me straight away but it wasn’t long before I was tapping and singing along to this and getting into the big choruses and poppy melodies. Really fun and enjoyable.
The War On Drugs – I Don’t Live Here Anymore
The War On Drugs – an old favourite of mine – were back with a new album in late 2021. Those that have followed the list for a long time will know that I put their most famous album ‘Lost In The Dream’ as my number one album in 2014. Looking back, I’m not thrilled at this decision as it hasn’t had the lasting value that a lot of my other top choices have had. Still, it is a good album even though it’s not really a classic. I didn’t love this current one but I thought there were still some good things about it. The band’s sound hasn’t changed too much, still very Dylanesque but also having that poppy commercial 80s rock quality that appeals to me and probably a lot of other people brought up on 80s Countdown and artists like Gino Vanelli, Don Henley and Hall and Oates. Even though I may not love it now, the music that you heard as a kid holds a special place and War on Drugs bring back some cool memories.
Sleater-Kinney – Path Of Wellness
Sleater-Kinney – Path Of Wellness. ‘Another album that suffered from not getting the listens it deserved because of time constraints. I still enjoyed it but not as much as it’s predecessor, the songs don’t seem quite as upbeat, clever or catchy but are still definitely worthwhile’
This one slipped through to the keeper during the lockdown and I only discovered it was out late in the year. Obviously, an album I needed to explore given Sleater- Kinney had my number album in 2019 with ‘The Center Won’t Hold’. Like the 2014 War On Drugs album I probably regret this choice a little but it was my favourite at the time. Another album that suffered from not getting the listens it deserved because of time constraints. I still enjoyed it but not as much as it’s predecessor, the songs don’t seem quite as upbeat, clever or catchy but are still definitely worthwhile.
Courtney Barnett – Things Take Time, Take Time
Courtney Barnett is an excellent songwriter and performer and she now has a pretty extensive catalogue of quality work. This one took a while to grow on me but it’s certainly getting there. The indie-rock style sound which featured on most of her early work is pretty much gone now with a more quieter country-infused style which I think highlights her talents well. I’m always going on about how artists need to progress and re-invent themselves and she does that on this release without changing too much either. A fantastic artist, with another top album which I’d say would have ranked higher if I’d had the chance to listen more.
All of the albums I’ve written about so far are strong ones. They easily could have been in the Top 10 on a different day or week, but I’ve got to rank them for the sake of history and continuity, so here are my Top 10 of 2021.
10. Goat Girl – On All Fours
10. Goat Girl – On All Fours. ‘This is a top album that has stood the test of time in that I’m still listening to it now despite hearing it for the first time way back in January’
Like the Steven Wilson album from earlier, this album was forgotten about in the black hole that was the mid-year Sydney Lockdown. I was certain this was a 2020 album – I actually had to check the release date! I’m glad I get the chance to write about it though as it’s a high quality release. Goat Girl are an English all-girl act who have been around for a while but this is the first album of there’s I’ve heard. They have an indie style paired with catchy songs, standout melodies and harmonies. Their songs stick in your head within their haunting melodies and riffs. This is a top album that has stood the test of time in that I’m still listening to it now despite hearing it for the first time way back in January.
Goat Girl – Sad Cowboy (Official Music Video)
9. Nick Cave and Warren Ellis – Carnage
9. Nick Cave and Warren Ellis – Carnage. ‘Carnage’ is the first Nick Cave album in a while where I don’t have that impending doom and darkness hanging over me as the music plays.
Nick Cave (and his various entities) has been one of my favourite artists for a very long time. I think I started way back in the early 90’s with ‘Henry’s Dream’ and got everything from before and after. Even though ‘Carnage’ is released by Nick and his right-hand man Warren Ellis, I don’t see this as too different from a Bad Seeds album. As much as I love Nick, his last two albums I find very hard to listen to. They’re of course brilliant but as they’re mostly about the experience of the death of his son, I can’t help but feel completely depressed when I listen to them. ‘Carnage’ is the first one in a while where I don’t have that impending doom and darkness hanging over me as the music plays. It could just be me but there seems to be more of a positive feel to this one, with those big gospel-style Cave songs and choruses making a welcome return.
8. Shame – Drunk Tank Pink
This is a pretty awesome post-punk release that I got into right at the very start of the year, in fact it may have been the first one of 2021. This is very British and very post-punk with more of an emphasis on the punk, not too much gloom on here just upbeat, guitar based energy. They probably owe a lot of their sound to The Fall, with their riff-based songs and Mark. E. Smith style ravings over the top. I’ve noticed The Fall as a strong influence on a lot of the bands I like these days. A fairly brash and fast-paced album but lots of good songwriting and cool moments.
7. Squid – Bright Green Field
7. Squid – Bright Green Field. ‘Their music is much more layered and intricate with a wider range of instruments on show. The songs go away a bit from the traditional but they all work, never coming across as being wanky or style over substance’
Here is yet another The Fall-like album to add to my growing collection. This Squid album is very similar to the Shame album I just wrote about. It’s very close in style but slightly better I think. It’s very much post-punk in sound and delivery but more expansive when compared to Shame. Their music is much more layered and intricate with a wider range of instruments on show. The songs go away a bit from the traditional but they all work, never coming across as being wanky or style over substance. The lead singer has a commanding and passionate voice, not leaving much in the tank when he’s delivering his message, not that I’m always sure what that message is. I think they’re mainly lamenting the future – who can blame them?
6. Be’lakor – Coherence
Melbourne’s Be’lakor are part of a group of metal bands that I’ll always take the time to listen to. It’s been a while since their last album, ‘Vessels’ and I haven’t really thought about them too much since then. And quite frankly, this is the best metal album I’ve heard in years. This is the way I like my extreme music – aggressive but not oppressive, complete with intelligent musicianship that doesn’t take away from the importance of the song. Each track on this album is long but never boring and they all build nicely, producing something epic each time.
5. Black Country, New Road – For The First Time
Black Country, New Road are a fairly new band and the first time I heard them was when one of their tracks popped up as a random selection on the streaming service I use. There’s obviously a lot of negatives about streamers but they know your music habits after a while and know what you like! I was immediately transfixed by that first song – ‘Athens, France’ – it had the dark, desperate sound that I always seek out in music. This band is a big group of talented young London musicians who have come together to form a pretty amazing collective. The amount of instruments and members sounds like it could be a completely arty and wanky disaster but Black County, New Road are nothing of the sort. The singer, who sounds like a less suave Jarvis Cocker, is a commanding and passionate guy. I’m not always sure what he’s on about but he is certainly very convincing and engaging!
4. Idles – Crawler
4. Idles – Crawler. ‘Idles have definitely changed things up on this album. It still has their distinctiveness, but the overall feel has been changed a fair bit. Not everyone in internet land has been a fan of this but I think it works’
Idles are probably my favourite current band and they were back in again this year after 2021’s excellent ‘Ultra Mono’. What a bonus it was to get a new album so quickly? These guys obviously love putting stuff out as this is their 4th album in 5 years. Idles have definitely changed things up on this album. It still has their distinctiveness, but the overall feel has been changed a fair bit. Not everyone in internet land has been a fan of this but I think it works. If you’ve been reading these lists for a while you’ll know I’m a believer in bands reinventing themselves. Unless you’re AC/DC or Slayer you can’t keep putting the same album out each time. Idles are a band who were famous for sticking it to the far-right with their catchy and aggressive songs. I’m sure their beliefs haven’t changed but the political side of their lyrics seems to have disappeared on this album. I think this is a smart move because as fun as it was, it’s probably not something you can do forever.
3. Modest Mouse – The Golden Casket
3. Modest Mouse – The Golden Casket. ‘I’ve been following Modest Mouse for a long time and the band never disappoints. They always seem to nail that really positive sounding catchy song which has an amazing chorus in between their very complex instrumentation’
I’ve been following Modest Mouse for a long time and the band never disappoints. Listening to their music is always such an uplifting experience. They always seem to nail that really positive sounding catchy song which has an amazing chorus in between their very complex instrumentation. Every Modest Mouse album is very strong but every one of them has one or two songs that are good enough to top any chart because they’re just so likeable. Although, judging by what my class listened to on school party day this year I’m not sure how popular Modest Mouse would be! They should be though. Maybe they could include a Minecraft rap to get the kids in next time?
2. Amyl and The Sniffers – Comfort To Me
2. Amyl and The Sniffers – Comfort To Me. ‘This is Amyl and The Sniffers second album but I never really heard their first so they were a new band for me and wow! What an album! This band is so cool. They have a rhythm section which is as tight as a duck’s arse, a tall guitarist who absolutely shreds and an amazing singer in Amy Taylor’
This is Amyl and The Sniffers second album but I never really heard their first so they were a new band for me and wow! What an album! This band is so cool. They have a rhythm section which is as tight as a duck’s arse, a tall guitarist who absolutely shreds and an amazing singer in Amy Taylor who is a real rock’n’roll demon with smart lyrics. They’ll remind you of a few different bands with the punk style and the female vocals but the song structure reminds me a bit of Bon Scott era AC/DC: the way the guitar just crunches and everything just slides together seamlessly. The song ‘Security’ is about not being let into a pub for appearing too drunk, I’m sure we’ve all been there at some stage. Just last night in my case. Not really. But this song contains the most beautiful guitar riff you’re ever likely to hear, goosebumps stuff. I think if you were on the verge of suicide and heard Dec Martens’ explosive guitar for the first time on this song you’d most likely reconsider. I’d love to go and see them but I think being in the mosh would be a risky experience. If I did see them I think I would stand up the back and pretend I was someone’s Dad – you know one of those old embarrassing people we used to see in the stalls at the Metro when we were in our 20s.
1. The Goon Sax – Mirror II
1. The Goon Sax – Mirror II. ‘The Goon Sax are in their own right are a fantastic band who have made great progress on their third album. This album has a much more expansive sound, moving away from the quirky pop that featured on previous releases’
It’s rarely easy picking a number one in these lists. Sometimes, there’s a standout which is an obvious choice but most years, like this one, there isn’t a lot of difference between the top five albums. Despite this, I’m happy with my choice in The Goon Sax – Mirror II. It had a big impact on me as I listened to it throughout the year and when things are close it often comes down to which album affected me the most. I’ve never written about The Goon Sax on here but I would have if the ‘list that was never was’ was written as their last album ‘We’re Not Talking’ would have been somewhere near the top of that. I reckon I’d be like a lot of their more elderly fans in that they would have discovered The Goon Sax from the connection they have with The Go-Betweens: Robert Forster’s son Louis is a main part of The Goon Sax. It must be awkward for them at their shows having a decent percentage of their audience being old bastards like me amongst their young and beautiful fans.
The Goon Sax are in their own right are a fantastic band who have made great progress on their third album. This album has a much more expansive sound, moving away from the quirky pop that featured on previous releases.
There you have it people, done for another year. As always, I’ve enjoyed writing about my top music choices for the year – it always brings me closer to the music. I’m not sure if anyone will be game enough to leave the house but I wish everyone a happy new year. Let’s hope this time next year t list we’re experiencing the normality that we all crave.