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8th December 2021

The Best (and Worst) Albums of 2021

Members of The Mancunion Music Section have rounded up their favourite (and least favourite) releases from a tumultuous 2021.
The Best (and Worst) Albums of 2021
Photo: yarenlen @ Flickr

2021 has been a whirlwind of a year for music. Beginning the year listening to tunes in lockdown and ending it by finally being able to enjoy the music we love live. Members of The Mancunion Music Section have rounded up their favourite (and least favourite) releases from a tumultuous 2021.

The best…

Me Rex – Megabear (Reece Ritchie)

Megabear Album cover – Me Rex

Megabear is a concept album at its best. 52 short songs all written at 120bpm and in the same key, Megabear becomes an endless album of interflowing tracks with countless possible combinations. Playing the album on shuffle each time, recently made more difficult by pop superstar Adele, creates an entirely new listing experience. Miles McCabe creates beautiful sonnets uplifted with synths and full of emotion. Each track is perhaps less powerful individually than his earlier works such as Tannikka Pacts’ but collectively come together into a beautiful whole. Often concepts like this remain simply concepts but with Megabear Miles has truly created a piece of art, one worth exploring time and time again.

Tigers & Flies – Among Everything Else (Robbie Beale)

Photo: Tigers & Flies – Among Everything Else Official Album Art

The hottest band so far to come out of the University of Manchester’s thriving music scene, Tigers & Flies have released a body of work which defies their age and the relative size of their band. The maturity of the songwriting across this album leaves the impression that they have in fact been writing together for decades. The incredible bridge/outro on second track ‘Ben’ demonstrates the edge that they bring to their music, setting them apart from other indie bands. Similarly the composition of three part horn sections throughout is frankly beautiful, and a refreshing addition to what’s already fantastic guitar music. Why not pick the album up on vinyl?

Citizen – Life In Your Glass World (Maddy Oxley)

Photo: Citizen – Life In Your Glass World Official Album Art

Citizen manage to almost perfectly reinvent their sound on their fourth LP, moving away from their angry emo roots into more mature alt-rock, whilst managing to stay distinctly themselves. The album keeps an upbeat tempo throughout, but the softer vocals mean that I can stick this album on when I want to chill out, as well as when I want something to get me hyped. The fact that Citizen lost their drummer and went back to producing music in a garage, but still managed to create the best album of their career thus far is truly a testament to how great they are, and I eagerly anticipate their return to the UK.

Dry Cleaning – New Long Leg (Emily Johnston)

Photo: Dry Cleaning – New Long Leg Official Album Art

Dry Cleaning are a band who aren’t for everyone, and admittedly took a while for me to really like. I’m so happy I listened more because there are few artists like them right now. The album (and their general style thus far) consists of witty and cynical monologues over a sludgy bass and a guitar which leads in a way you wouldn’t expect. Sometimes it verges into noise pop or stoner rock, but ultimately it is overarchingly experimental, art rock. Vocalist Florence Shaw’s lyrics are honestly so strange, like a collage of realism, but it works so well and sets the album far apart from others. This is showcased by the fact New Long Leg has been named a Rough Trade Album of the Year. Not many acts approach music in this manner, and I think Dry Cleaning could continue to make a serious mark on the music scene.

Lana Del Rey – Blue Banisters (Owen Scott)

Photo: Lana Del Rey – Blue Banisters Official Album Art

Lana Del Rey released Blue Banisters, much more quietly than her previous projects, coinciding its release with a departure from social media, though this has been a busy year for her, as Blue Banisters is her second album this year, following her earlier release Chemtrails over the Country Club. This distancing though is interesting in that Blue Banisters is her most intimate album to date, and her most experimental, using her voice in more ways than ever before. Here, more than ever, Del Rey sounds like a peer of Joni Mitchell’s, with raw lyricism over delicate pianos and strings, with songs like ‘Wildflower Wildfire.’ Her willingness to take risks with her vocal style pays off with ‘Dealer’, a track that became a quick fan favourite, having Del Rey belt, almost shout in a way we haven’t heard before. The lyricism and the way Lana Del Rey experiments with her voice are the reason that Blue Banisters is my personal album of the year.

Pardoner – Came Down Different (Maddie Drake)

Frustrated, angsty, post-teenage rock from San Francisco band Pardoner. Memorable, distinct riffs and grating vocals that are strong on the sarcasm. I forget which pit of the internet I reached blindly into to find this record but I couldn’t be happier that I did. I listened to it all summer; I’ve formed such great memories to these songs to the point I can’t listen to them when I’m driving because I get so sad I need to pull over. Favourite track has to be ‘Hammer Factory’, though not too far behind in second place is ‘Fuck you!’.

Lorde – Solar Power (Dan Knight)

A record long-awaited by many, this album was a triumphant return for arguably the best solo artist on the planet right now. Produced over 3 years, Lorde and Jack Antonoff constructed a much more mature, world-weary sound, with a placid, summery sound sprinkled with lyrics that spoke of apathy, sorrow and wistfulness. Stand-out tracks included title track ‘Solar Power’, the release of which as lead single provoked jubilation from fans across the globe, and ‘Stoned at the Nail Salon’, a melancholic look at growing into adulthood. All in all, Solar Power represents the very pinnacle of contemporary releases, with Lorde an artist who can only be rivalled by a select few.

And worst…

Coldplay – Music Of The Spheres (Robbie Beale)

Photo: Coldplay – Music of the Spheres Official Album Art

Latest astro-pop-trash effort from no-one’s favourite rock band Coldplay is as disappointing as the bulk of their post-Viva La Vida efforts; though refrains such as “I know we’re only human / But we’re capable of kindness / So they call us humankind” only sting all the more because their last effort Everyday Life was actually quite good. I’m sure Chris Martin is still patting himself on the back for his brilliant idea of using emojis as song titles. The move must seem forward-thinking to anyone firmly in their middle-age, and accordingly the reinforcement of traditional gender stereotypes on the track called ‘<3’ betrays how little thought has gone into actually creating anything of relevance. On the bright-side, the vast income Martin must be reaping from a collaboration with BTS on lead single ‘My Universe’ will hopefully mean it’s not too long until he has enough cash to fade away into happy retirement.

Liquids – Life is Pain Idiot (Maddie Drake)

Liquids – Life is Pain Idiot Album Cover

Life is pain Idiot is twenty-seven tracks of shitty music. Mat, who sings (and also does everything else, as far as I know) whines and howls, sounding not unlike a South Park character, generally incomprehensible through songs being so fast he can barely keep up with himself (see the Meat Loaf cover: ‘Bat Outta Hell’). The slower, ballad-like tracks (‘The Night The Lights Went Out’) make up for what they lack in pace for cement-brained lovesickness. That being said, I love this album and it’s one of my favourite punk releases from the last few years. I used it to keep myself awake driving around at night, sticking my head out the window when no one’s around. It sucks and all my friends hated it. Favourite track: ‘Don’t Wanna Get To Know You’.

Elbow – Flying Dreams 1 (Reece Ritchie)

Elbow’s Flying Dream 1 album cover

There isn’t much to say about this album and it’s exactly the problem with it. Elbow have been writing and delivering undoubtable ballads for years but they simply haven’t followed up with this album. The former owners of Oxford Road haunts Big Hands and Temple Bar Guy Garvey and crew have born unto the world a project acceptable for Elbow fans and dragging for everyone else. I’ve listened to this album two or three times but it simply hasn’t stuck with me past those initial first listens and it’s a grand shame. I love Elbow but I expected better than repetitive piano chords that feel like a regression from even ‘Giants of all Sizes’.

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