Halfway To Paradise - the 10 best albums of 2021 so far...
We're six months in and not only is this year already better than 2020, but it's also been a bumper year for great new albums released. So here's look at my ten favourite albums so far.
10. Written & Directed - Black Honey
The second album from this Brighton group is snarling, angry indie that roars against the patriarchy and it's catchy as hell. But between the righteous anger there are gentle, chilled moments that give this album a cinematic feel that befits its title. Well worth checking out as you get ready for your Saturday night out (and we can go out!).
Standout track: Back Of The Bar
9. Seeking New Gods - Gruff Rhys
Former Super Furry Animal, Gruff Rhys released his seventh solo album back in May, just as lockdown eased - in fact he was my first gig in 14 months and 10 days. Seeking New Gods is his most consistent album to date - psychedelic, hypnotic, poppy, Beatlesy, weird and all themed around the Paektu Mountain, an active stratovolcano on the Chinese–North Korean border and uses this as a metaphor for loneliness. I doubt anyone else will release an album with such an unlikely theme and more's the pity.
Standout track: Loan Your Loneliness
8. Flock - Jane Weaver
Electronica star Jane is back in 2021 with her 11th album, which swings from Goldfrapp-styled glam-stomp of Stages Of Phases to the Prince-meets-Can hypnotic funk workouts of Heartlow and The Revolution of Super Vision. It's jazzy, jittery and in places like 80s Human League. And like all her albums, it's addictive.
Standout track: Solarised
7. All The Colours Of You - James
It's hard to believe that James can knock out their 16th album and it can be so good - especially in the circumstances it was made. Tim Booth had had to flee his California home due to fires, move to Costa Rica and then not be able to be with his father-in-law as he died from COVID. Meanwhile the rest of the band were scattered in different locations around the world. But through the wonders of technology, they have made one of their finest records, dealing with isolation, COVID, climate change, the mess that is US politics. And despite this grim material, it's their catchiest and most cohesive album in years.
Standout track: All The Colours Of You
6. Get Up Sequences Part One... - The Go! Team
The second Brighton group on the list, Get Up Sequences Part One... is yet another slice of genre-hopping, style-splicing hip-hop meets sixties pop. At just over half an hour, the album has no flab, it just romps along - it's raucous, lots of fun and immeasurably catchy.
Standout track: Cookie Scene
5. Jubilee - Japanese Breakfast
This is a big jump away from the first two albums by Japanese Breakfast, aka Michelle Zauner, a Korean-American musician, director, and author. Her third outing is less shoe gaze indie and much more 80s pop. Those first two albums were driven by her mother's cancer and subsequent death. Jubilee is her moving on, it's euphoric, ambitious, slick pop. Check out the joyous Be Sweet and Slide Tackle.
Standout track: Paprika
4. Nature Always Wins - Maximo Park
Fatherhood, insecurity, Brexit, Grenfell all drive Maximo Park's first album as a trio. But it's business as usual at Maximo HQ. Upbeat, energetic and beautifully presented (lead singer Paul Smith can rock a hat like a demon), Nature Always Wins just crackles along at pace and rarely lets up. It's life affirming and impossible to ignore.
Standout track: Ardour (a duet with Pauline Murray from Penetration)
3. Fat Pop Vol 1 - Paul Weller
The Modfather delivered his 16th solo album as he killed time through lockdown, having had his touring plans scuppered. This is of course his 27th album, if you count his albums with The Jam and The Style Council. Relaxed, chilled, funky, folky, soulful, angry, a family affair - it's inventive and as varied as anything he has released over the years.
2. Collapsed In Sunbeams - Arlo Parks
An album that has remained on my playlist since I first dropped the needle on the vinyl back in January. It's a stunning debut - insanely confident, candid and open about the challenges of mental health. As I said in my review earlier this year, the album is assured, stylish, introspective, but warm, engaging and open. It’s like getting a hug when you are sad from someone who just gets it.
Standout track: Hurt
1. Blue Weekend - Wolf Alice
Wow...a huge step forward from their previous indie adventures - it's a wild ride through indie, country, progressive, chilled - every style you can think of gets a nod. And Ellie Rowsell drives the whole thing, unflinchingly looking at her own life, social anxiety and the chaos of fame, her fears and the almost "out of body" experiences of her new life.
Standout track: Lipstick On The Glass
And for the rest of the year? Looking forward to finally hearing Contenders by Fightmilk, the second Yola album, plus the debut albums by Julia Bardo and Inhaler. And I think Marillion might get their album out this side of Xmas (but doubt it - we will all have to wait until 2022!).