In Search of the 21 Best Albums of 2021: November

Almost there! We’re now at 11 of 12 of our month-by-month survey of 2021, en route to our ultimate goal. Speaking of which, if you’re just joining for the first time, I’m listening to new releases each month, sorting them into yes/maybe/no, and then doing a final shakedown to get the 21 best albums of the year.

You can find the earlier installments here:

( January February March April May June July August September October )

This is one of three music-related blog series I’m doing this year. The final installment of my review of critic’s choices for the best albums of the 2010s is here, and the wrap-up of my review of the critic’s consensus on the 20 best albums of 2020 is here.

Before we proceed with November, a quick note about the three categories:

Yes– These are the albums that, based on my initial listen, are in definite contention to be considered for the 21 best albums of the year. There are now 234 albums on the list, so every survivor will be standing on the mounded corpses of at least nine dead albums. The horror!

Maybe– These are albums that had definite strengths, but about which I have some reservation. I’ve noticed over the years that sometimes “maybes” linger, so I’m giving them a category just in case.

No– These albums are not in contention. Some of them deserve discussion, though, which I note.

Now, on with the review of 110 November new releases!

Adele, 30– It starts off with “I’ll be taking flowers to the cemetery of my heart” which lets you know what kind of material this post-divorce album is grappling with. Musically, though, it’s much lusher and often more up-tempo than that might make you think. If it’s more subtle and nuanced than some of her earlier work, it’s also more varied in modes, and moods. Some things stun with the vulnerability of the personal window she opens up here. Others find her alternately furious with her partner, angry with herself, eager for something new, and weary and wise. With this much power at 30, it makes one wonder what lies ahead.

 

Aesop Rock/Blockhead, Garbology– I’ve listened to many great hip-hop albums this year. And a whole lot of bad ones. So the bar is pretty high now, but this collaboration of Portland-based underground hip-hop impresario Matthias Bavitz, aka Aesop Rock, and Manhattan record producer and DJ Tony Simon, aka Blockhead, delivers. The vocals are pleasingly goony and un-smooth, the musical mix is wildly varied and muscular, and the lyrics are smart and off-kilter.

BackRoad Gee, Reporting Live (From the Back of the Roads)– This British-Congolese artist brings together African pop, hip-hop, UK dub, and a delightfully skillful wielding of varied sound effects and musical backgrounds. All this would work well just on the sonic side, but on top of that, lyrically it grapples honestly and intelligently with details of hard life in Africa and the UK.

Curtis Harding, If Words Were Flowers– Sometimes jazzy, sometimes funky, very informed by 70s soul and AM radio, but with more than a hint of hip-hop diction. Reading up on him afterward, this amalgam is his signature style, which he calls “slop ‘n’ soul”. It makes me feel lost in time, and it’s an exquisite trip.

David Christian & Pinecone Orchestra, For Those We Met on the Way– 30-year UK music veteran David Christian has come out with a fine album with traces of the more introspective singer-songwriter side of UK 80s alt (think Lloyd Cole, for example), 60s-influenced acoustic, and country. The whole thing has a tone of looking back on life and taking stock, with intelligent and emotionally complex lyrics.

Deap Vally, Marriage– Now that is a crunching guitar and feedback start! A female rock duo from Los Angeles, sounding exactly like a female rock duo from Los Angeles should sound. They do fast, they do slow, they do mid-tempo, and they’re gloriously menacingly rocking the whole time.

Defcee & Messiah Musik, Trapdoor– This Chicago hip-hop artist brings super-smart and conscious lyrics, muscular vocal delivery, and a spare approach to beats and mix. This reminds me of a certain stream of 90s hip-hop that I’ve missed.

Foxx Bodies, Vixen– Oh, help me. It’s that band! Punky. Poppy. Heavy crunching guitars, but with melody. Female lead with a strong presence. They’re from Los Angeles in this case, seem to have been kicking around since 2016, and do a very high level of engaging gender politics and identity issues in their music. Huzzah! 

Lukah, Why Look Up, God’s in the Mirror– At first this seems to be a very solid, driving and muscular hip-hop album, with a strong personality, but one that’s kind of typically hitting the street bluster clichés. Along the way, though, it ends up going through an arc where there’s a bottoming out, and a spiritual rebirth. Really interesting and well done!

Margo Cilker, Pohorylle– Oregon-based Margo Cilker cut her teeth playing covers of Creedence, Dylan, and Neil Young before touring extensively on her own material. She clearly learned the craft, with dense story songs, a voice that never sounds false, and a sure feel for country-tinged Americana. There’s also some excellent use of the word “fuck”, and even when a song gets a little polemical it never sounds less than achingly sincere.

Marta Del Grandi, Until We Fossilize– This Italian-born artist weaves a spell with her voice and delicate instrumentation that reflects both electronic and jazz influences. It won me over despite being in a low-key vein. The depths it pulls one into are rich and worthwhile.

Model Home, Both Feet en th Infinite– This was very interesting! They’re described as an “experimental hip-hop duo from Washington, D.C.”, and indeed, it’s kind of electronic, kind of jazz-influenced, very strong hip-hop influence. The audio collage keeps one going, and the repeated choruses and stomping beat create a kind of spell.

Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats, The Future– On the first track this Denver-based singer-songwriter seemed to be channeling late 60s/ early to mid 70s Bob Dylan, which is a great way to get my attention. Subsequently, though, he proves to be doing a romp all through the Americana and R&B of that era. And he does it very well! Does it feel a little like a museum piece? Yes. But a flawless and sincere one!

Naytronix, Other Possibilities– The first track is like space jazz playing with a radio tuning dial, the second has what sounds like an electric xylophone intro, the next is like AM radio gold being played on an 80s synth keyboard, and so on. That’s the musical side, the lyrical side is full of longing, and the vocal side is heavy on melody with an occasional side trip into gonzo distortion. Naytronix is the solo musical project of Nate Brenner, who is also a member of the band tune-yards whose album Sketchy. I was very favorably impressed with earlier this year. As for this album, I think it literally delivers on the promise of its title, introducing an array of sonic possibilities.

Pip Blom, Welcome Break– This Dutch band knows how to do a poppy, high-energy rock song, and I like the earnest straightforwardness of leader Pip Blom’s vocals. Is it super-profound? Probably not. But it is a super-fun, flawlessly executed example of what it is. Okay, yes, I’m a sucker for a guitar-crunching, female-led band. So sue me!

R.A.P. Ferreira, The Light-Emitting Diamond Cutter Scriptures– Rory Allen Philip Ferreira is an American rapper and producer from Kenosha, Wisconsin. On this album he brings vivid, poetic, spiritually-infused vocal flow with relaxed beats and some spare jazz-inflected background. It might be hard to keep this going for an hour, but at a half-hour run time, it never flags for a moment.

Silk Sonic, An Evening With Silk Sonic– Silk Sonic being a collaboration of Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak, you might be expecting some kind of invocation of 70s soul and funk. Hearing Bootsy Collins is involved with the album, you might expect that even more so. You would be exactly right, and it’s like glorious slowly-pouring sonic gold.

  

The Darkness, Motorheart– Hard rock and metal, in a gloriously trashy 80s vein. Some throwaway Star Trek references. Guitars, guitars, guitars! It’s kind of like this UK band received the instruction “make an over-the-top parody of this kind of music, except do it totally sincerely” and then brilliantly executed on that mission.

Maybe

  • Aimee Mann, Queens of the Summer Hotel– Mann developed these songs for a stage version of “Girl, Interrupted” that ended up itself being interrupted by COVID, after which she decided to release them herself. She is as good as she ever is, but it’s somehow not consistently up to her best (admittedly a high bar).

     
  • Chime School, Chime School– Based on the band name, you might expect something like the Byrds, or maybe the paisley underground channeling the Byrds. And you would be getting exactly that from this San Francisco band! In many ways it’s a museum piece, which is making me question “yes”, but it’s a flawlessly executed one.

  • Circle/Richard Dawson, Henki– Dawson is an English neo-folk musician, and Circle is a Finnish experimental rock band. They describe this album as “flora-themed hypno-folk-metal”. That’s actually a pretty fair description of the mind-bending sound here. A little like prog rock, a little like Bowie and Ferry at their most theatrical, a little pinch of Bauhaus, a little off-kilter musically, vocally and lyrically, but always interesting and feeling looming with import. It’s not like everything else. Which after 938 albums so far this year I put quite a premium on! My only reservation is a section in the middle that bogs down a little.

  • Courtney Barnett, Things Take Time, Take Time– Her sometimes I sit and think was one of the critics’ picks for the 2010s that I agreed with. Like that album, this has unique vocals, a sure feel for melody and rock chords, and smart and sometimes knife twist lyrics. It mostly keeps a little too all to one vein musically and emotionally, which is my main reservation.

     
  • Dave Gahan & The Soulsavers, Imposter– I don’t know what I was expecting from a Depeche Mode member’s side projects, but I guess something generally Depeche Modey? To be sure, this is darkly textured and full of mood, but is a series of widely ranging covers that are musically treated as an invocation of old fashioned R&B, 60s soul, and the darker minor chords side of 60s rock. Among others, he covers Neil Young and Dylan cover, which is a good way to win me over. There’s always been an undercurrent of homage to soul and R&B in synth pop, and I can see the dotted lines between Depeche ModI and what he’s doing here musically, but it’s still an interesting and welcome surprise!

  • IFE, 0000 + 0000– per YouTube Music’s summary: “The electronic music moniker of New Orleans based producer and percussionist Otura Mun, ÌFÉ blends elements of Afro-Cuban folklore and Yoruban religious music with the bass driven sounds of modern day Jamaican Dancehall, Trap and Afro-Beat.” That maybe gives you the proper flavor, and while I wasn’t quite sold on it having enough coherence, structure or sheer oomph to be a year’s best album, it was a consistently interesting (and fun!) listen that I never felt tempted to turn off.

  • Julie Doiron, I Thought of You– Doiron is a Canadian singer-songwriter who has been a fixture of the Canadian indie scene since the 90s. And with guitar rock that rings like bells, sometimes haunting and sometimes plaintive vocals, and incisive emotionally complex lyrics, there is a lot here to like. My only reservation is the pacing of the material, I’m not sure the shifts from faster/slower are spaced out for best album flow.

  • NRBQ, Dragnet– I feel kind of bad not having heard of them before, since they’ve been around since 1965. Always something new to learn! Technically, only one original member is left, backed here by a band that he’s had together for a decade now. But what really catches me about it is the spontaneity, variety, and sincerity of the music. It’s kind of like it samples various styles from the last half-century, and then plays every single one of them as if 100% in that era. What it lacks for in overall coherence is mostly offset by the impressive inventiveness and skill.

  • Rod Stewart, The Tears of Hercules– His 32nd studio album! One the one hand, does it match his best work, and will it be an album people are still talking about two years from now? It doesn’t seem likely to me. On the other, it’s livelier than the average outing his contemporaries produce these days, and completely naively joyously committed to its pseudo-classic, pseudo-disco, pseudo-sleazy ethos. I gotta say maybe!

  • Sherelle, Fabric Presents Sherelle– AllMusic tells me, “London-born DJ, label founder, and producer Sherelle has earned widespread praise for her high-octane sets”. And that definitely keys in on what I love about this- its over the top manic energy level. This would be a great set to spend the night at the club dancing too, but as an hour and a half album, I’m not sure it works. On the other hand, I did thoroughly enjoy it. So maybe?

  • The Flaming Lips/Nell Smith, Where the Viaduct Looms– If you’re the Flaming Lips, you know what you do for your next album? You do an album of Nick Cave covers with a 14 year old Canadian singer-songwriter on lead vocals. Do you know why? Because you’re the Flaming Lips, you can do any damn thing you want, and the weirder the better! Between the off-kilter musical approach typical of the Flaming Lips, the strong source material, and the contemporary pop vibe of the vocalist, it’s a weirdly successful and compelling mix. It doesn’t *totally* feel like it all fits together, but isn’t that kind of the point?

  • TisaKorean, mr.siLLyfLow– The fresh sound directions from this this Houston rapper, producer, and dancer include soundtracks and cartoons sampling, gonzo vocal flow, and hilarious lyrics. Also, the sound effects made my dog fitfully bark. It doesn’t always feel like it fully fits together, but it’s all great. Dog and man recommend! (Full disclosure: This is not really a November release. It’s from a Pitchfork list of 27 albums you might have missed this year. No stone left unturned!)

  • Tony Allen/Joan as Police Woman/Dave Okumu, The Solution is Restless– This collaboration between indie pop powerhouse Joan Wasser, Afro-beat veteran Tony Allen (this was his last record before his recent death), and producer Dave Okumu is very interesting. It emerged out of what was essentially an extended studio jam session, the results of which they later refined. I was constantly on the edge of thinking it sounding unfocused, but then being utterly charmed by the spontaneous energy and the intriguing mix of jazz, beats, and sophisticated pop that they were weaving together. A strong maybe!

  • Walk The Moon, Heights– I was continually tipping back and forth between “this is the epitome of post-2000 pop/rock, and not in a good way” and “I really like their energy, and this is pretty darn catchy”. So I think, by definition, we have ended up at “Maybe”. So all right, Cincinnati-based band founded in 2006. Maybe!

  • Willie Nelson, The Willie Nelson Family-This is exactly what you might think based on the name- Willie Nelson, musically and sometimes vocally accompanied by his two sons, two daughters, and sister. His backing band has been called The Family since the 70s, so really it’s a double serving of family. Perhaps fittingly for that, this selection of covers of country gospel songs is very relaxed-feeling. Is it stupendous? No. Did I wish it would just keep going, and would I listen to it again? Yes. We could do a lot worse! 

No

  • ABBA, Voyage– “First new ABBA album in 40 years” is, if nothing else, notable. It’s actually pretty well done, but in a slow and syrupy dripping with nostalgia way. It doesn’t start to hit the kind of high energy Abba territory one might be expecting until a third of the way in. It’s not bad, but not their best, or the best of the year.

  • Alex Malheiros, Tempos Futuros– Leading Brazilian Jazz bassist since the 70s. It is very pleasant and richly textured, but it just doesn’t click in for me. I try jazz, I really do!

  • Alison Krauss/Robert Plant, Raise the Roof– It’s as solid as you would expect, but for the most part it doesn’t differentiate or distinguish itself enough, especially given their earlier collaboration. This is the trap of being compared against your own best!

  • anaiis, this is no longer a dream– Definitely some worthy material here, musically lush and vocally powerful. Ultimately it doesn’t get beyond a certain energy sameness to me. (Full disclosure: This is not really a November release. It’s from a Pitchfork list of 27 albums you might have missed this year. No stone left unturned!)

  • Ashley Shadow, Only the End– Jangly reverb-heavy guitar chords are a good way to get my attention. This was doing well for the first few tracks, but then bogged down in the middle with too many slower low-energy tracks in a row. (Full disclosure: This is not really a November release. It’s from a Pitchfork list of 27 albums you might have missed this year. No stone left unturned!)

  • aya , im hole– Part feedback, part performance art, part experimental synth jazz club beats. This outing from UK club DJ aya is not without merit, considerable merit, but a little too abstract/experimental to be an album for the year/ages.

  • Beach Fossils, The Other Side of Life: Piano Ballads– These are piano ballads. They’re fine. They have a song named “Sleep Apnea”. It’s appropriate.

  • Ben LaMar Gay, Open Arms to Open Us– Now this is interesting! A little jazz, a little experimental, a little electronic, and all thoroughly vocally and musically offbeat and quirky. It wears a little thin after about a quarter of the way through, but I did appreciate how different it sounded.

  • Body/Head/Aaron Dilloway, Body/Dilloway/Head– I want to like this, I really do. The inclusion of Sonic youth’s Kim Gordon pre-disposes me kindly. Unfortunately, it’s very much on the “atonal noise experiment” side of her (and her collaborators) output. Alas!

  • Casper Skulls, Knows No Kindness– The vocals are shimmery, the music is billowing, it’s all well-rendered and establishes a mood, but it doesn’t particularly stick while listening, or afterward.

  • Chris Liebing, Another Day– This reminded me of that kind of late 80s techno/industrial that one found in, well, the late 80s. Pretty good as far as it goes! But it started to wear thin partway through.

     
  • Christian McBride, Live at the Village Vanguard [2021]– American jazz bassist, composer and arranger, with over 300 side-man recordings. So, he’s probably very good. It doesn’t sound bad, I just generally can’t jazz. I keep trying!

  • Cleo Soul, Mother– This is a very intelligent, emotionally and lyrically profound album on motherhood. It’s all so much musically in one low-key track to track vein that it just doesn’t sustain.

  • Constant Smiles, Paragons– This reminds me of some kind of bulge bracket encompassing 80s alternative and 80s AOR. So I guess I’m saying guitars and mood like the Church, but with a hint of Moody Blues prog to it? It was working for me for quite a while, but then eventually collapsed into fuzzy sameness.

  • Converge/Chelsea Wolfe, Bloodmoon: 1– I guess if I were a depressed teenager I might like this? I did definitely like the depressed teenager music of my era when I was a depressed teenager. It’s all a little paint by numbers meeting between goth indie rocker and prog metal, though.

  • DAF/Robert Gorl, Nur Noch Einer– This feels like a trip down the early version of electronic music’s memory lane. And that’s exactly what it is- DAF were pioneers of electronic music in Germany in the late 70s, and this album is based on unreleased material they’d written in the 80s, re-worked by the surviving original band member after one of the other founder’s untimely passing. It’s a fun enough listen, and might certainly appeal to aficionados, but I’m not sure it’s hitting “best of year” territory.

  • Damon Albarn, The Nearer the Fountain, More Pure the Stream Flows– Sometimes synthy and moody in that brooding English kind of way, sometimes more electronic and experimental. It actually might have sold me with more of those really gonzo moments. Maybe. It was really pretty pleasant, it just wasn’t usually more than that.

  • Diana Ross, Thank You– It’s decent, if somewhat low energy. But not up to her finest work (admittedly, an absurd bar to top) or among the year’s best for R&B.

  • Dijon, Absolutely– There are moments where it gets to an abstract, almost chaotic mix with rising and falling rhythms. Those are interesting times. It doesn’t get there consistently enough, though.

  • Dltzk, Frailty– It was starting off as a nice low-fi approach, albeit in a kind of emo/indie vein, but then just started becoming too autotuned.

  • Doran, Doran– My sources inform me this is a four-person freak folk collective. They do lovely harmonies, but it’s all kind of stuck in one tone/low-energy groove.

  • Dream Unending, Tide Turns Eternal– Ah, instrumental orchestral metal with the unintelligible guttural monster voice. Next!

  • Eastern Margins, Redline Legends– I was really hoping for something interesting in this collection of East Asian club music. There are some off the hook high-energy tracks here that I appreciate, but also way, way, wayyyyy too much autotune. (Full disclosure: This is not really a November release. It’s from a Pitchfork list of 27 albums you might have missed this year. No stone left unturned!)

  • Elbow, Flying Dream 1– It reminds me in a way of  the slower side of Peter Gabriel. It all ends up being a little too sonorous for extended listening, though.

  • Fine Place, This New Heaven– This is a little on the chilly side of synth/electronic, which I actually appreciate about it. Though it reminded me of my moody teen music home in a way, I didn’t think it added up as an album.

  • Foxes, Friends in the Corner– Kind of the British version of a Taylor Swiftian teen album. Not badly done, by any means, but not really rising above either.

  • Goldenboy Countup, Chicken Man 2– This is a solid hip-hop album, and makes some fun and interesting mix/sample choices, but it doesn’t really rise up to the level of best hip-hop albums I’ve heard this year. End of year is a tough time to measure up! (Full disclosure: This is not really a November release. It’s from a Pitchfork list of 27 albums you might have missed this year. No stone left unturned!)

  • Gov’t Mule, Heavy Load Blues– Hey, Gov’t Mule is good mule! And they come to the blues-based sound very honestly. But it too often feels a bit “playing genre by rote” here for me, and especially with a run time of well over an hour, it needs to be consistently very sharp in order to work.

  • hackedepicciotto, The Silver Threshold– Kind of new age, kind of orchestra, kind of abstract electronic. Kind of no.

  • Hana Vu, Public Storage– This LA singer-songwriter has produced music that is spare, smart, and full of a surging, looming feeling. It’s very well done, but ultimately it’s too in one tone musically and vocally to really stand out and work at full album length.

  • HARD FEELINGS, HARD FEELINGS– This is some very fine club dance music, but is it the finest club dance music we’ve heard this year? Or better/as good as the best of what we’ve heard in other genres? This is the peril everything I’m listening to in November/December has to face!

  • Haviah Mighty, Stock Exchange– There are definitely some good things about this rapper from Toronto, Ontario. She’s got something to say, and keeps hi-energy tracks moving. Unfortunately, it’s also autotuned all to hell.

  • Hawthonn, Earth Mirror– A very background, almost somnolent sound. It fits deep slow earth magic, but maybe doesn’t so well fit listening and remembering.

  • Hayden Pedigo, Letting Go– Apparently, Hayden Pedigo is an American avant-garde musician, politician, performance artist, and model. This is a lovely acoustic set. Doesn’t really zing into “best of year” status. (Full disclosure: This is not really a November release. It’s from a Pitchfork list of 27 albums you might have missed this year. No stone left unturned!)

  • HTRK, Rhinestones– Richly textured vocally and musically, strong on a dreamy acoustic mood. It never really gets outside of that same track-to-track vein though. But I do want to give this Australian band props for having been originally named “Hate Rock Trio” and for having rallied back after the suicide of one of their founders.

  • Ichiko Aoba, Windswept Adan– The soundtrack to a movie that exists only in this Japanese musician’s mind. I love the concept, and the execution is pretty, but is a little too in an ethereal neo-classical, largely instrumental vein to hold my attention.

  • Idles, Crawler– I like this so much better than Ultra Mono, the Idles album I listened to for the 2020 list. As good musically and lyrically (sometimes very punky, sometimes bruising hardcore, sometimes brooding atmospheric songs) as that earlier labum, and it’s gotten itself much more out of the shouted vocals business. Ultimately, I think it ended up too uneven in its musical approach given the length- some sequencing and structure would have really benefited it as an album. There’s a lot of good material in there, though!

  • Irreversible Entanglements, Open The Gates– Some hip-hop/spoken word-infused jazz, interesting but eventually gets bogged down in lengthy mostly instrumental tracks.

  • Jason Aldean, Macon– Do you like your formulaic lyrics and topics pop-country with a rock edge? If so, God bless, and this is for you.

  • Jessy Lanza, DJ-Kicks– Jessy Lanza is a leader of the hyperdub movement, and a talented DJ and multinstrumentalist. She’s collected this album of mixes, and there’s no denying there’s some great dance music here, but there’s not enough holding it together for the nearly hour and a half run length to get it to “great album” status.

  • Jon Hopkins, Music for Psychedelic Therapy– Well, the title just about perfectly tells you what to expect. And I think it would honestly be pretty good for the suggested purpose, just maybe not as good for repeated listening under any other circumstance.

  • Key Glock, Yellow Tape 2– The flow is solid, and I like the driving spareness of the production. This album by a Memphis-based hip-hop artist doesn’t get enough beyond cliché and sameness track to track to really stand out, though.

  • Kip C, meraki– Some low-key hip-hop flow and a jazz background. It’s pleasant enough, but never really grabbed me. (Full disclosure: This is not really a November release. It’s from a Pitchfork list of 27 albums you might have missed this year. No stone left unturned!)

  • KrispyLife Kidd, The Art of Spice Talk– It’s a good hip-hop album. We’ve only got room for extraordinary at this point. (Full disclosure: This is not really a November release. It’s from a Pitchfork list of 27 albums you might have missed this year. No stone left unturned!)

  • Ladyhawke, Time Flies– This is a kind of pastiche of disco and 80s pop and 90s dance music. It’s all well enough done, but, well, it’s getting to be late in the year, and the bar for getting my attention at this point is pretty high…

  • Leif, 9 Airs– There was some nice swirling instrumental work, some keyboard sound effects, something that sounded like a plastic container rolling down a hallway. Eh.

  • Lord Jah-Monte Ogbone, Beautifully Black– It’s a pretty darn good hip-hop album, with some clever and interesting material, but the bar, well, she is very high at this point in the year.

  • Makaya McCraven, Deciphering the Message– Through the years, venerable jazz label Blue Note has made it’s archive available to hip-hop artists, often to great effect. This bleeding edge drummer, producer, and self described “beat scientist” has produced something sonically pleasing, but not as dynamic and engaging as when Us3 did something similar, for example.

  • Makthaverskan, For Allting– The totally ambient intro pretty much lost me, but the second track from this Swedish band started to win me back with its lively surging rock and yearning vocals. The tracks do have a tendency to kind of fuzz together in an undifferentiated way, but when they’re on, they’re great- brimming over with a spontaneous 80s alt kind of feeling. In the end it was a little too uneven to really gel together as an album, but it was a close call.

  • Mira Calix, absent origin– It opens with de-synchronized beats and what sounds like a repeated fart or deflating balloon. It does get considerably better and more interesting than that, but is too discordant and experimental to make a sustainable “best of year” album.

  • Modeselektor, EXTLP– German electronic music duo. When it gets in to dub, and the more vocal tracks, it definitely comes alive. Otherwise it gets a little abstract for me.

  • Mortiferum, Preserved in Torment– I mean, you see the band name, you see the album name, you know what you’re in for. At that point, it’s actually a bigger problem for a band if they you don’t deliver it than if they do. Musically, it’s doing an excellent job of alternating between shambling sludgy doom and blistering guitar metal. The lyrics and vocals, unfortunately, are utterly lost behind an incomprehensible monster mumble voice.

     
  • New Age Doom/Lee “Scratch” Perry, Lee “Scratch” Perry’s Guide to the Universe– One of the final outings from the acclaimed Jamaican producer, teaming up with proggy metal band New Age Doom. It’s interesting, trippy, and I wouldn’t say it doesn’t work. It certainly is the kind of experiment that should be celebrated. But I’m not sure it makes an album that one would repeatedly listen to.

  • Ovlov, Buds– This is some really good indie-guitar rock, but it all kind of fuzzes together after several tracks.

  • Parris, Soaked in Indigo Moonlight– There are some good dance singles here, but I’m not hearing anything that adds up to a complete album.

  • Pelt, Reticence/Resistance– Pitchfork tells me “over the past 30 years, Pelt has become known for their distinct blend of Americana, drone, improvisation, and psychedelic rock”. It is impressive that these are live recordings, but the album’s two 20+ minute tracks are on the drone side of psychedelia. That’s a lot of minutes of that sound.

  • Penelope Isles, Which Way to Happy– They’ve got beats, and dreamy shimmery music, and swirly vocals. It’s all very nice, but I’m not sure I picture it being remebered much after the year is over.

  • Portrayal of Guilt, Christfucker- If you know it’s a metal band, and you see the album title, you know what you’re getting in for. Musically it’s pretty good, though there’s an occasional almost electronica touch that strikes me as odd. The vocals are all in that hoarse exaggerated monster scream voice that keeps you from getting anything out of the lyrics, though.

  • QRTR, infina ad nausea– A little electronic sometimes tending toward ambient, a little autotune, a little nah. (Full disclosure: This is not really a November release. It’s from a Pitchfork list of 27 albums you might have missed this year. No stone left unturned!)

  • Rosie Lowe/Duval Timothy, Son – This collaboration between UK and South African artists is sonically interesting, but maybe a tad abstract and experimental to be coherent and bear repeated listening.

  • Scott Hirsch, Windless Day– There are moments where this mix of heartland rock and 70s production effects really felt like it was working for me. Then there were others when it felt a little flat and overproduced. Too many more of the later. (Full disclosure: This is not really a November release. It’s from a Pitchfork list of 27 albums you might have missed this year. No stone left unturned!)

  • Sean Khan, Supreme Love: A Journey Through Coltrane– Some great jazz musicians paying tribute to a jazz great. I’m sure it’s great. Although I do wonder- I one of the things about the original is how groundbreaking it was. I’m not sure the responses measure up to that. Ever the trap when covering/responding to a great!

  • Shubh Saran, Inglish– It’s a thoughtful, if all-instrumental, meditation on identity. Done in an electronic-informed jazz vein. (Or a jazz-informed electronic vein?) Certainly not unworthy, but ultimately not enough to hang coherent, repeatable album status on.

  • Sloppy Jane, Madison– I do like the spell of her voice, and the emotional depth of the lyrics, and I really admire the musical gonzo spirit of recording the whole thing in a deep underground cave. It’s all of one slow tone, though, that doesn’t make for a sustainable, interesting album.

  • Snail Mail, Valentine– Skilled young indie rocker, but this is a little too much in a same low tempo track-tot-track vocal and musical vein.

  • Spirit Was, Heaven’s Just a Cloud– Although I wasn’t sure about the opening track, it did have a way with melody, and moody guitar layers that I appreciated. There was also some interesting experimentation along the way. I think it stayed all too much in one fuzzy, woozy vein (although a nice one) to work as an album, but I would keep an eye on this New York City band.  (Full disclosure: This is not really a November release. It’s from a Pitchfork list of 27 albums you might have missed this year. No stone left unturned!)

  • Sting, The Bridge– I think the last time I listened to a new Sting album was probably some time in the 90s. And don’t get me wrong, I know it’s hip to dislike him, but as an alt 80s kid I was a big fan of the Police and Sting’s earlier solo albums. So, I’m not inherently hostile, and this is not bad, in parts it’s even soaring musical storytelling. But it’s not consistently at that level, and not up to his best.
  • Summer Walker, Still Over It– The sentiments expressed here are worthy, but otherwise it’s musically unremarkable 2000s soul/R&B, down-tempo, with a lot of autotune.

  • Swallow the Sun, Moonflowers– “Finnish doom band” does leave me favorably disposed in general. And, to be sure, they do their orchestral, occasionally thrashy, thick with dread emotional vocals thing well. Maybe not well enough to sound particularly more or different from other things like this, though?

  • Taylor Swift, Red [Taylor’s Version]– We’ve talked earlier in the year about the admirable audacity of Taylor Swift’s project of re-recording earlier albums to re-gain control of her catalogue. And, not wanting fans to feel tricked or cheated, she’s loaded the releases with additional material. That’s praiseworthy! But, a two and a half hour run-time is…a bit much. Not to say there isn’t a lot of great material here, but it’s extreme overflow for an album.

  • Terrace Martin, Drones– There were moments when this was doing a jazz-inflected channeling of 70s/early 80s soul that I quite liked. There were others when it was doing something more like autotuned hip-hop that I didn’t. On balance, it didn’t quite come together.

  • The Dodos, Grizzly Peak– The descriptor “San Francisco indie rock duo” makes me want to like them, but it was a little on the bleary, unfocused side of indie for me.

  • The KVB, Unity– This British duo has produced a nice, moody, shimmery shoe-gazey outing here. To be sure, it’s pretty good. But is it especially more good than other similar things? Will people still be listening to it and talking about it five years from now? A year from now even?

  • They Might Be Giants, Book– Earlier this year I reviewed a Barenaked Ladies album, and I remember thinking they sounded as good as they always do, and the songs were all fun and well done, but I was curiously unsure it added up to a proper album. I have that same feeling here.

  • Tristan Arp, Sculpturegardening– It is like sonic sculptures, and it’s very well done, but it’s also very abstract. Not bad, just not in the general area of what I’m looking for. (Full disclosure: This is not really a November release. It’s from a Pitchfork list of 27 albums you might have missed this year. No stone left unturned!)

  • Uffe, Words and Endings– Experimental electronic, some dub influence, which I like. Doesn’t stand out.
  • Various Artists, Highway Butterfly: The Songs of Neal Casal– Casal was a country-rock songwriter who released fourteen albums himself, and played on hundreds of songs for other artists before becoming a member of Ryan Adams band. You can see how widely respected he was by the breadth and depth of artists who contributed covers of his songs to this tribute. It really is great material and well covered, but, at more than three hours, too unwieldy to function as an album for the general listener. But still well worth exploring!  

And now, on to December! Can I make it before the year ends?

2 thoughts on “In Search of the 21 Best Albums of 2021: November

  1. Pingback: In Search of the 21 Best Albums of 2021: December | Chris LaMay-West

  2. Pingback: In Search of the 21 Best Albums of 2021: The 21 Best Albums of 2021! | Chris LaMay-West

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