My Top 5 Favorite Albums of 2021
I don't call them the top or best albums because it's a personal list, not a definitive one.
Some years I listen to more new music than others. Some years, new music grabs me more than others. 2021 was a really good year. Most critics who talk music for a living would tell you that 2021 was better than 2020. For me, while we’re splitting hairs, I think 2020 was a bit better for my monthly Spotify and Patreon dollars. That said, I have some great music to talk about today that kept me running and surviving.
On with the Top 5.
Sympathetic Magic by Typhoon
Typhoon sounds to me like what happens when a singer / songwriter gathers a huge number of musicians to have their way with their songs. That’s probably not fair because there are six members of the band currently that have been with the group since 2005. Still, the lead voice of the band is Kyle Morton, and the songs sound like the kinds of tunes that could have been first written, stripped-down, at an open mic in the band’s hometown of Portland first. Regardless, the results are a wonderful mix of acoustic, organic, and synthetic-sounding production. The result is a wonderous mix that allows you to keep hearing new things every time you listen to it with the mix of percussion, guitars, horns, and other accompanying sounds.
You should listen to “Empire Builder” for a taste of what I’m talking about.
On top of all that, Typhoon are just a nice group of people. I took my oldest son to see them on their tour a few years ago at the Beachland Ballroom. After the last song of the set, Kyle Morton thanked the audience and urged everyone to come to visit them at the merch table to get to know them. I asked my son if he was ready to go, and he said, “Dad, they said we could meet them, so I figure we should do that first.” I flagged Kyle Morton down on the way out and he was more than happy to take a picture with my son.
So, I was already in the tank for Typhoon, but make no mistake. The music is phenomenal and it was worthy of being my fifth favorite thing I listened to this year.
I Became Birds by Home is Where
This was one of the weirder pieces of music I heard all year. Talk about genre-bending, but I can’t even begin to describe this indie-emo-punk-hardcore weirdness, but I absolutely loved it. The song names are insane, like “L Ron Hubbard Was Way Cool,” and “Long Distance Conjoined Twins.” My favorite song on the short six-song EP is called “Sewn Together from the Membrane of the Great Sea Cucumber.” In that song, before going full hardcore, the band sings the refrain “I want to pet every puppy I see” over and over. I’ve never been much of a lyrics person, but it’s impossible not to find yourself singing along to this refrain. Check out the live version from Audiotree including an inexplicable belch into the microphone.
Infinite Granite by Deafheaven
I already wrote at length about this album here on this very site. I’ll just say that the album holds up for me at this stage of the game. I was curious when I wrote about it originally if it was just the novelty of this band that I already loved doing something so drastically different. Well, after all this time, I still really love this album.
If you haven’t already read that post from The Album of Record, please go back and do so!
Illusory Walls by The World is a Beautiful Place & I am No Longer Afraid to Die
This one is a bit of a shocker. Many of the bands on this list were previous favorites of mine. Home is Where came out of nowhere for me, but by and large, my entire list is filled with bands I already knew heading into the year. I’d heard of this band TWIABP but I kind of thought they were trying too hard with their band name. It’s a bad reason not to listen to music, but whatever. It’s true for me and I’ll admit it. Then, I heard a really good things about their new record, Illusory Walls from my friend Andrew who shared it in Discord. It didn’t take long at all for me to realize I was going to love this album. He and I went back and forth as we were listening to it just marveling at how the album flowed from front to end.
I love the trading of vocals between the male and female on this record. It creates an awesome dynamic as they blast through a progressive-sounding indie rock record. It borders on hard rock from time to time, but not in the way that hard rock sounded in the late 90s. More like hard rock how Faith No More did it, even though it doesn’t really sound like Faith No More. I could imagine them touring with them though, if that makes sense.
They made a video fr “Queen Sophie for President.” It’s a great tune so that’s the one I’ll share. If you do a deep dive though, I love how “Died in the Prison of the Holy Office” flows into Your Brain is a Rubbermaid.”
The Million Masks of God by Manchester Orchestra
This brings us to my top album of the year. It’s probably not a shocker to anyone who knows me because Manchester Orchestra is one of my very favorite bands. I’m going to go ahead and share two songs first before I write about this one. Here’s “Telepath” and “Way Back.”
I became a gigantic fan of Manchester Orchestra and their 2009 album Mean Everything to Nothing. It easily could have been the peak for the band creatively and success-wise because it’s just that good. Songs like “Shake it Out,” “I’ve Got Friends,” are somewhat unhinged rockers. “I Can Feel a Hot One” is one of the prettiest sad songs you’ll ever hear. The rest of them are anthemic and awesome in their own right. It’s really a complete work of art as a collection of songs making up the album.
And look, I enjoyed Simple Math from 2011. The title track is incredible and there are some highlights. Same with Cope. As a fan of the band, the world is a better place for me because those records exist. However, the band did something improbable next with 2017’s A Black Mile to the Surface.
That album represents a growth and level of achievement that bands aren’t supposed to do a decade into their career, at least by common standards. It’s a bit obnoxious with the song titles all being “The” songs other than one. But when the music is that good, who cares? “The Maze,” and “The Gold” are as strong as any album opener you can imagine. The band hits the middle of the album with a trilogy of songs that absolutely have to go together in “The Alien,” “The Sunshine,” and “The Grocery.” The peak vocals from “The Grocery” give me chills even as I type this, and I’m not currently listening to it. The mere thought of those heights is enough to bring back all the loving chills. They finish the album with “The Silence” in one of the more epic album closers of recent memory. They ended the show I saw in Chicago a few years ago with that one and it choked me up to the point I couldn’t speak. I’ve seen thousands of shows. They’re not all like that.
So did Manchester Orchestra peak? One listen to their latest and the answer is an emphatic “No.”
The Millions Masks of God is more in this unbelievable quality of music that they started with Black Mile. I tried to figure out whether I thought Masks is better than Black Mile, but I think it’s a fool’s errand. It’s another wonderful continuation to an already abundant career for a band that easily could have peaked with their sophomore effort. Here they are in 2021, heading into 2022 with some of the most compelling material of their career. I don’t want to take it for granted and I’ll enjoy each and every moment of it, but holy hell I can’t wait to see what’s next.
Let me know what your favorites from 2021 were.