"Go big or go home" may not be the official slogan for Gang of Youths, but it is undoubtedly their, or at least leader David Le'aupepe's, M.O. angel in realtime. wastes none setting the stage for what will unfold over its 13 tracks. The nearly seven-minute opening "You In Everything" incorporates the cornerstones the Australian quintet have built their career upon: lush soundscapes from a range of instruments, including strings, and Le'aupepe's powerful baritone both cooing and passionately belting out the earnest storytelling of his unabashedly personal lyrics. As could also be said about the album's predecessor, this one is even more boldly ambitious than the last.
Gang of Youths' third LP does not disguise its inspiration: Le'aupepe working through his father's death and reconciling the choices the deceased elder made to do what he saw best for his family. The intent is catharsis, and if listeners are in the mood for the grandiose, angel in realtime. may land as one of the finer albums of this young year. If not, the 67-minute runtime and anthemic U2-esque elements can serve as an easy disconnect. I'll admit, I've entertained thoughts in both of those directions, largely dependent on my attention given. That said, Gang of Youths usually do the trick of leaving me feeling better than before I pushed play.
Two and a half years after the rocking Entertain You, Bronze Radio Return, uhh, return with an album befittingly named for the songwriting whims indulged. If its predecessor was designed to be featured in commercials, the acoustic-based Chillers is full of tracks longing to occupy those sappy scenes of reconciliation between two leads when everything aligns for the titular character. The vibe is not an accident. It's a collection of previously released, uhh, chillers, from the Connecticut-based band, along with a handful of demos, which in at least one case is better than the official version. Whether or not the tunes were tailored for film or TV, they nestle in nicely with the arrival of cooler temperatures.
Previously, I've used the last Album Notes each year to reflect on the preceding 12 months in music. The easy take is that the return of live music was undoubtedly welcomed and served as a cathartic release. Unfortunately, we find 2021 concluding in a manner far too similarly to where we were a year ago, and as 2021 comes to a close, I am left with a broader feeling of, "Wait, what really happened this year?"
Music aside, last New Year's Eve feels like it was half a decade ago. The events on the January 6 seem as if from another lifetime. Or reality. Did the Tokyo Olympics actually take place this summer? What a blur. I find it almost unfathomable that we're about to turn the calendar over to 2022. With that, I have no grand observations and will attempt to make no pithy summaries on this current state of life. Too much retrospection leaves my brain feeling little more than a "wow" of disbelief. Thank goodness for music.
And on that note, here are my ten favorite albums of 2021, in alphabetical order:
Cheeckface - Emphatically No.
Aaron Frazer - Introducing...
Genesis Owusu - Smiling With No Teeth
King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard - Butterfly 3000
Lord Huron - Long Lost
Mdou Moctar - Afrique Victime
Ol' Buger Beats & Vuyo - Dialogue.
Turnstile - Glow On
Typhoon - Sympathetic Magic
White Denim - Crystal Bullets / King Tears
If I had to pick an absolute favorite from the above list, I would go with the one I've found myself spinning the most: Long Lost. Not only did Lord Huron's fourth album fail to leave my rotation following its May release, but it made me dig out their previous three LPs, all brilliant, and listen more intently than I have in years, which led me to conclude that these guys just might be my favorite thing in music over the past decade. There's a simplistic charm in their Americana stylings that is classic without being retro. Maybe that's why I find their music so enchanting when we're living in a time warp.
While we're at it, for more listening pleasure, here are ten other records, in alphabetical order, I enjoyed but didn't feature in Album Notes:
The Artisanals - Zia
Big Red Machine - How Long Do You Think It's Gonna Last
Lee DeWyze - Ghost Stories
Douglas Firs - Heart of a Mother
The Felice Brothers - From Dreams to Dust
Mustafa - When Smoke Rises
quickly, quickly - The Long and Short of It
Andy Shauf - Wilds
Silk Sonic - An Evening with Silk Sonic
Yola - Stand For Myself
Finally, as has become tradition, below are two mixes of some of my favorite tunes of the year from albums not featured in this space, in no particular order other than the one I listen to them in. Part 1 is the more rocking, upbeat collection, part 2 more chill.
This Also Happened in 2021 - Part 1
Tracklist (Artist - "song" - Album)
La Femme - "Paradigme" - Paradigmes
Altin Gün - "Yali Yali" - Âlem
Grouplove - "Scratch" - This Is This
Carpool Tunnel - "Forget My Name" - Bloom
Good Morning - "Depends On What I Know" - Barnyard
Holiday Ghosts - "Told My Baby" - North Street Air
Jon Batiste - "I Need You" - We Are
Teleman - "Simple Like Us" - Sweet Morning EP
Inhaler - "Cheer Up Baby" - It Won't Always Be Like This
The Limiñanas and Laurent Garnier - "Promenade oblique" - De Película
Silk Sonic - "777" - An Evening with Silk Sonic
Islands - "Closed Captioning" - Islomania
The Bamboos (feat. Durand Jones) - "If Not Now (Then When)" - Hard Up
This Also Happened in 2021 - Part 2
The Notwist - "Into Love / Stars" - Vertigo Days
quickly, quickly - "Shee" - The Long and Short of It
Nick Hakim and Roy Nathanson - "Small Things" - Small Things
Monster Rally - "Imaginary Palms" - (Single)
Run River North - "Spiders" - Creatures In Your Head
The Wallflowers - "Maybe Your Heart's Not In It No More" - Exit Wounds
The Dodos - "Annie" - Grizzly Peak
Pino Palladino and Blake Mills - "Ekuté" - Notes With Attachments
The Artisanals - "Way Up" - Zia
Balthazar - "On a Roll" - The Sand Castle Tapes
Having written about the 50th anniversary deluxe reissues of The Beatles (White Album) and Abbey Road, I was somewhat glad that, math aside, the same treatment bestowed upon Let It Be occurred in the midst of our Obscure October, if for no other reason than I could put off the inevitable write-up to follow the Thanksgiving weekend release of Peter Jackson's eagerly anticipated three-part, eight-hour epic Get Back. Hearing the five-LP set first on vinyl left me not only with greater appreciation of the original work (and bewilderment over what Glyn Johns presented as the album Get Back that was rightly rejected by the band – check out the fourth disc of the reissue), but drooling with glee after hearing the raw beauty of those extra tracks, all while wondering the part they played within the mini series. It turned out pretty much everything in the audio format can be seen on Disney+. And that's what makes Get Back the unique experience it is. We are granted fly-on-the-wall access to a legendary band making new music, sometimes out of thinair, with no filter between us and the musicians themselves, except the limitations of the recordings and the whims of a director who is also documenting a filmmaker making a film about a band making a film or TV show or album or whatever they decide it will be. Wow.
In the few weeks since its release, as with all things Beatles, Get Back has already been covered by seemingly every outlet and social media user. The spectrum of responses has been almost (well, not really) as fascinating as the series itself, particularly on the perception of each member of the Fab Four. My personal conclusion is largely, "your opinion of how you see the four of them says a lot more about you than it does John, Paul, George, and Ringo themselves." My overly simplistic takeaway for each band member based on this series alone? Glad you asked.
Ringo, did you sleep at all during the month of January 1969, or are your constantly bloodshot eyes the result of something other than excessive drinking? Either way, it doesn't matter because you were the first to show up, ever at the ready, happy-go-lucky, and the steady rock of the band. Was your first "real" post-Beatles solo album the only one on which John, Paul, and George all performed? Yes, yes it was. That says it all.
Paul, you really are a goddamn genius and are more skilled at every single instrument that you and your fellow bandmates play, other than Ringo on drums. Were you overbearing at times? Eh, maybe. Do I think you operated with what you perceived as your best intentions for trying to keep the group together? 100%. The scene with you almost coming to tears after George quit the band while wondering whether Lennon would show up is arguably the most touching moment among the many filling the eight hours. By the way, it would have been nice if you had made an effort to recognize George as an actual musician.
John, wow, you (probably) would kind of bug the shit out of me if I had to hang out with you, unless I was on the same stuff, then we would have giggled and talked in affected voices endlessly. But at least you were (probably) not on heroin by the time the band regrouped at Apple studios. And when locked in, you were a damn good rhythm guitarist. Also, thanks for bringing Yoko. I know I wouldn't have wanted to do crossword puzzles at home alone while paying little attention to my partner making some of the greatest music in pop history.
And George. I should have been clued in by the song "Taxman," but boy do I wish I had kept track of the number of statements revealing your inner miser. You seem to love the guitar, but for someone who admits that the sessions were productive, if for no other reason than to force you to improve by playing every day, your stream of consciousness is revealing. But your boot game is second to none, and even the internet hasn't caught up to the epic displays brought forth thanks to your late 60s cordwainer.
The fact that we are able to witness not only a band, but one almost universally regarded as the most important of the 20th century, create what would be their final release, although not final effort, is what makes Get Back as singular as the quartet themselves. I land firmly in the camp of "no, it is not too long, give me the deluxe edition of this." More so, it supports the prevailing thought I've long held and one in which I undoubtedly reside in the minority, if not as the sole adherent: I'm glad the Beatles never got back together.
Their recording career was pretty much perfect. It's easy to forget that throughout Get Back, George Harrison is 25 years old. John and Ringo 28, Paul 27. In about six years, the four Liverpudlians made a lifetime's worth of music that will live on for generations. In our current era of widespread nostalgia, TV and movie reboots and remakes, bands from our youth reuniting for Vegas residencies, the yearning for things we previously held so dear is frequently met with derision when the results don't align with our desires, or the new narrative presented changes our perception of what was understood before.
We're left with a cultural vacuum in which our fondest memories are diluted by seeking an unquenchable endorphin thirst. All of which is to say, for things we have forever adored, more often than not, it's best not to long, but rather cherish it for what it was. In other words, let it be.
Don't work out while lending your ear to Ants From Up There for the first time. That's what I did, and let's just say my opinion today is vastly different from where it resided during that session about six weeks ago. The second album in as many years from Black Country, New Road just may be my favorite of 2022. Music for exercising, this is surely not. Less certain is what comes next for the now sextet.
The announcement that lead singer and guitarist Isaac Wood was leaving the band is what initially caught my attention. Not for the fact of his departure, but rather the timing: four days before the album was set to drop. While there may be another example of a group's leader quitting so close to their new record's release, I struggle to find an analog. Even Lou Reed was gone months before Loaded hit the shelves.
Given the growth between LPs one and two, there may be a sense of "what could have been" following Wood's exit. Ants From Up There is a significant progression from their solid and appropriately named 2021 debut, For the First Time. Both an eclectic mix, no doubt due in part to the saxophone and violin, the latest is more dialed in, despite half the songs crossing the six-minute mark. A gentle melancholy intertwines with energetic fits to produce a beautiful, and occasionally rapturous, masterpiece.
More than an hour and a half of music spread across For the First Time and Ants From Up There portended a bright future for the English ensemble. The remaining six members say they will forge on with or without Wood. Where their new road leads remains to be seen.
We're starting off 2022 with an album from this past October, one I intentionally didn't include in my "enjoyed but didn't send out" in 2021 list last week, but nothing says "Happy New Year!" like a big ass tuba, am I right? Well, no, I don't think anyone has ever said that, but c'est la vie. Or literally not.
Anyway, you may or may not know the name Theon Cross, but the sounds of his brass have been popping up in many places in recent years, most notably as a member of Sons of Kemet, but also backing Jon Batiste and Emeli Sandé, as well as Makaya McCraven and Little Simz, two artists previously featured in Album Notes.
Cross' sophomore effort is rooted in the Londoner's jazz instincts, but the electronic, dancehall, and hip hop leanings create a canvas that's so far removed from expectations of the tuba as to render the instrument imperceptible at times. All of which is to say Intra-I is an eclectically cohesive wonder.
We're kicking off our foray into 2022 music with an album that is straight up lazy summer vibes. As it should be, when 'tis the season for Angus Stone aka Dope Lemon, the Sydney, Australia native.
On his third LP, Dope Lemon does what he's always done under the moniker: create mellow soundscapes that set a mood and are in no hurry to move on. My only criticism of the record is that arguably none of the songs need to be stretched past the four-minute mark, which nearly all do, and this is coming from someone who has the patience for 20-minute versions of "Tweezer" and lengthy "Eyes of the World." Shit, now I just kind of want to go listen to the Dead. But I digress.
Anyway, Rose Pink Cadillac is the follow up to albums titled Honey Bones and Smooth Big Cat, which, collectively, kind of explain the aesthetic the Aussie is going for. "Stingray Pete" and "Every Day Is a Holiday" recall previous Album Notes artists Balthazar and Glass Animals, respectively, but overall, Cadillac is Angus Stone through and through. The record just might hit you right, provided you've got some time and a relaxed mind.
Color me amazed by the frequency with which Broken Social Scene has been putting out music since 2017. Schubert they are not, but for a group that dropped three albums between 2001 and 2005, then proceeded, more or less, with a five-year break, followed by an even longer one of seven, the last four and a half years have been a godsend for fans of the Canadian collective. Hug of Thunder was a welcome return, and 2019 saw the release of two EPs, the first of which was thoroughly enjoyable.
Here we are in the early days of 2022, and while Broken Social Scene celebrates its latest release, the title most certainly does not belie its components. Old Dead Young: B Sides & Rarities is exactly what it says it is. That said, the record is far more impressive than the post-colon portion of the title might lead one to believe. By no means perfect, overall, it largely feels cohesive, more like a collection of songs written in the same album cycle and less like the career-spanning project it is. Diehard Scenesters (I don't think anyone calls them that, but why not) may find little novelty here, but for those less well-versed, Old Dead Young: B Sides & Rarities represents something between a catalogue completer and a decent introduction. Color me even more amazed if they put out an LP of new material before 2024. The way their career has unfolded, who the hell knows.
Since I first heard "It's Over" back in 2016, I've been fascinated by the London-based quartet Palace. While the fourth track from their debut drew me in, both So Long Forever and the 2019 follow-up Life After left me feeling like I was witnessing a band searching for their own sound, stuck somewhere between visions of Jeff Buckley and early Coldplay, yet headed in the right direction and only in need of just a little more time to wholly manifest themselves as a musical entity.
Shoals may not be the foursome fully realized, but it is a leap forward and easily their best LP from top to bottom. As with much of their previous work, a melancholy lingers over this 12-song set, but here it seems to cut deeper, the songs and arrangements more dialed in, a band nearly eight years into their recording career putting the pieces together into something more grand and exquisite than ever before. The January release date is likely no coincidence; Shoals is perfect for this time of year, or whenever you're feeling blue and want a moment to indulge in lament. A fine album that has grown on me with each listen, it also leaves me with nothing but optimism about the future of Palace.