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2021 – Cosmosis

February 7th, 2022 · Posted by Skuds in Music · No Comments · Music

Well. 2021 was another year of not going out much wasn’t it? Another year of (mostly) working from home, and then staying at home afterwards. There was fresh air of course, as I was getting out for regular walks and shattering the 10,000 step target on good days – though a lot less for a while after I went into hospital for a hernia operation! All of that meant that I heard a lot of music because the radio was on all day, except during online meetings, and there was also music on my walks if I was up-to-date on podcasts.I did spend a lot of time listening to old stuff, particularly Genesis. I read Mario Giametti’s two excellent Genesis books (1967 to 1975 The Peter Gabriel Years and 1975 to 2021 The Phil Collins Years) and would listen right through the relevent albums before and during their chapters.

But there was also plenty of new to be enjoyed. Dry Cleaning released their debut album and a couple of new bands released singles that had me looking forward to albums in 2022 – Wet Leg and Yard Act. I also surprised myself by really enjoying Olivia Rodrigo. Usually the latest teen stars pass me by.

There was also a lot of music by acts that were new to me, even though they have been going for a while. What usually happens is that I catch a tune on the radio and then look them up and discover, to my embarrassment, that they have been going for 5 years or longer and have a string of albums that I somehow missed. In 2021 those acts included Ballake Sissoko, Endless Boogie, Joek Culpepper, Made Kuti and Trees Speak. There was also Nation of Language, though they seem to have started up in 2020 so I am not so behind the curve there.

And then there were the oldies who are still knocking out new material after 30, 40 or 50 years. Alice Cooper, Hawkwind, Iron Maiden, Lindsay Buckingham, Steve Hackett, Tom Jones, Elton John, Neil Young, the Strawbs, Santana, Deep Purple and Robert Plant (with Alison Krauss). I guess Elvis Costello counts as an oldie now, which is scary, and he put out Spanish Model which is a Spanish language version of his old Last Year’s Model album.

A subset of the oldies category has to be the returns to form, and returns after a long absence. The biggest headlines were obviously for Abba and their surprise new album Voyage, but there were also new albums from Caravan and DAF/Robert Gorl and a new track from Jethro Tull, as well as some tracks from Tears for Fears, in advance of new albums to look forward to in 2022. New posthumous material from Price and Gerry Rafferty was very good, as was the aforementioned Tony Allen material.

For me, the best returns/returns to form had to be Toyah with her Post Pop album, surely her best since Anthem, Crowded House with Dreamers are Waiting and Yes with The Quest. The first new material without Chris Squire sounded good with a couple of standout tracks. It starts with The Ice Bridge, a real old school Yes sound, including a bassline Squire would have been happy with. For some reason I was really taken with the track Mystery Tour. I can see that its a bit naff lyrically, but something about it really  hooked me.

Even Blancmange must count as oldies now, and they released 3 or 4 albums during the year, which is impressive. Jean-Michel Jarre released two albums, one of them being his New Year’s Eve 2020 virtual concert in Notre Dame which hit the streaming services in the first seconds of 2021. Only the one album from Van Morrison this year, the ominously-title Latest Record Project, Volume 1. It got a bit of a kicking because of his increasingly odd anti-vax conspiracy rants, but I quite liked it. My tendency to not notice lyrics a lot of the time probably helped a lot in this case.

Tony Allen was especially busy for somebody who died in 2020. He had a posthumous album released, as well as featuring on collaborations with Joan as Policewoman and Ben Okri/Skepta. I really wouldn’t be surprised to hear more new material from him in 2022.

Looking at the list of other music released in 2021 is quite a daunting task. There is just so much. Albums that stood out for me were Little Simz and her epic-sounding Sometimes I Might be Introvert, Gary Numan’s Intruder, Public Service Broadcasting’s Bright Magic, Steven Wilson’s The Future Bites, Sleaford Mods’ Spare Ribs and King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard’s pair of albums, but that is just scratching the surface. There was new material from Paul Weller, IDLES, John Grant, Manic Street Preachers and Sons of Kemet.

The single biggest disappointment of the year for me was the Jam & Lewis album. After years in the business, producing some great records for other artists like Janet Jackson, they finally put something out in their own name and it completely underwhelmed me.

2021 was a nother good year for female artists. Apart from those already mentioned there was some strong music from Arlo Parks, Roisin Murphy, St Vincent, the Anchoress, Angelique Kidjo, and a decent album from Suzi Quatro. Bands with a female singer were also right up there, and Kelis popped up with a great track.

The nostalgia/heritage scene was strong too, with quite a few decent re-releases, compilations and re-makes getting released. The Beatles were well represented with George Harrison’s 50th anniversary boxset of All Things Must Pass and Paul McCartney with McCartney III Imagined, an album of remixes of his 2020 album. Jah Wobble put out his new version of PiL’s Metal Box – “rebuilt in dub” and Khruangbin had an album of remixes of Mordechai. Pink Floyd continues their relentless plundering of their back catalogue by putting out a remix of Momentary Lapse, the Knebworth concert and a slew of 70s live albums.

The oddest, or most surprising, anniversary release had to be Radiohead’s Kid Amnesiac, with ‘new’ material from the Kid A/Amnesiac sessions, and the blockbuster had to be Metallica’s black album box set, containing more versions of the tracks on that album by themselves and various other artists than anybody could have expected (or wanted?). My favourite re-release had to be the special edition of Toyah’s Blue Meaning, and I am really hoping that Anthem gets the same treatment.

For me, there were a few themes to the year 2021.

First of all, it was a significant year for reggae. There were some decent new releases from Gentlemen’s Dub Club, Reggae Angles/Sly & Robbie, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, but also the sad deaths of Perry, Robbie Shakespeare, Bunny Wailer, and members of Black Uhuru and UB40.

Secondly, it was a good year for German music. Apart from that new DAF album, there was also a new album and a remix album from Tanzwut, a new remix of Heimcomputer from Kraftwerk, and covers albums from Die Krupps and Die Toten Hosen – continuing their series of albums covering classic British punk songs. And of course, quite a few non-German acts were putting out music with a krautrock/motorik/kosmische vibe.

Lo-fi rock, especially with almost spoken vocals, was really big again in 2021. Wet Leg, Dry Cleaning, Black Country, New Road, Yard Act, Squid… All good stuff, though after a bit it does get hard to differentiate them all.

The other trend seems to be that of cover records. It has always been a thing, but it seemd to be even more of a thing in 2021. Die Toten Hosen, Deep Purple, David Gahan, Die Krupps of course, but also the Foo Fighters with their disco incarnation the Dee Gees and their Hail Satin album of Bee Gees disco songs. Metallica included an anormous number of covers of black album tracks as part of their box set and then there was The Problem of Leisure – a double CD of Gang of Four covers. As a big fan of covers, I wholeheartedly approve of this as a trend.

As for the track of the year, the one I have added to my playlist, I went for Cosmosis by Tony Allen, Ben Okri and Skepta. I really can’t resist that slinky Tony Allen drum pattern and the mixture of vocal styles – poetry/spoken and rap. But it was really hard to pick one track because I was listening to Radio 6 for hours every day while working from home and had a lot of earworms throughout the year, so  lot of contenders.

I could just as easily have picked Intruder by Gary Numan, and nearly did. A very strong sound. A couple of other earworms were by artists that I finally ‘got’ during 2021, namely The Coral (Lover Undiscovered) and Maximo Park (Baby, Sleep). I really liked Scratchcard Lanyard by Dry Cleaning and Chaise Longue by Wet Leg, but they were a little bit too similar to each other and several other tracks this year for me to want to put them on the list. Similarly, I was really taken with Franz Ferdinand’s new track Billy Goodbye, but it has too much of a 2004 sound to represent 2021. I also considered Nation of Language, Johnny Marr and Sea Power, but their tracks also all sounded like throwbacks rather than of the present – though all excellent tracks.

Joel Culpepper’s track Thought About You was a strong contender because I am a sucker for lyrics quirky enough to make me notice them, and the line “I heart you” just stood out for me. Introvert by Little Simz could easily have been the 2021 song as well. Such a powerful, cinematic sound to it. On a different day it could have been any of them, or perhaps Pa Salieu and Obonjayar’s track Style & Fashion, but I’ll stick with Tony Allen.

For the last few years I have been been adding a new track to my playlist on Jan 1st, or very close to that. This year it took me more than a month to pick between the contenders, so I suppose I have to conclude that 2021, although terrible for so many reasons, was pretty good for music as far as I am concerned.

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