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Quietus Charts

Quietus Albums Of The Year 2021 (In Association With Norman Records)
John Doran , December 6th, 2021 09:42

These are our favourite albums of the last 12 months, as voted for by tQ staff, columnists and core writers. Illustration by Lisa Cradduck

Sound the trumpets. These are the Quietus albums of the year, as voted for by staff, columnists and regular writers of this site. It's an absolute peach of a list. My PayPal account is already sobbing tremulously at the thought of the number of digital downloads, tapes, CDs and vinyl LPs it's going to have to process because of this bountiful inventory. If time is on your side, do spend a few hours listening to entries that are unfamiliar to you – I can guarantee you'll find a batch of records that will turn your head and at least a handful that will permanently penetrate your heart and mind.

I went out for a coffee with my girlfriend this week, simply for the pleasure of sharing a slice of cake and having a chat. I couldn't remember the last time we'd been afforded the luxury of communicating at length without the sole aim being to discuss fears regarding elderly relatives, finances, employment, schooling, health, climate, COVID and so on. After a pleasant 40 minutes we both said, "We should do this more often!" But I think we're both aware that circumstances are stacked against it happening again for the time being so fraught is the current moment.

During this oasis of a conversation my girlfriend asked me, "What's going on in the world of music?"

And boy, what a question it was. From my Terminator-style drop down menu – which also included "Steve Albini's commendable but way overdue mea culpa"; "COVID's exposure of damaging fault lines in DIY communities"; "The recent failure of the Spotify cloaking device revealing it to actually be Titan's Eternal-Deviant warlord Thanos" – I selected, "Adele versus independent music."

Despite us coming at the subject from pretty much opposing corners, after a few minutes of nuanced debate we found that actually we were pretty much in agreement with one another where it counted, unlike, it seems, literally everyone else who discussed it on my Twitter feed. Constructive solutions were actually relatively easy to locate (although maybe less so to implement, with neither of us being on the board of directors of Columbia Records). Thinking back on it afterwards, this exchange reminded me of the Quietus itself. What Luke and I and the rest of the Quietus team have with you, the reader, is a bona fide relationship; many of you have been with us for 13 years now. And those who are reading this chart for the first time? Well, you're just as welcome, all you need to possess in order to be part of this family is an open mind – there is literally no other bar to you joining in. It also made me think about how lucky we are to still have this space to encourage serious, nuanced, cool-headed debate about culture, as I've never felt further away from the polarising rage sauna of Twitter or the atemporal, amoral dunce-churn of Facebook. Truly independent digital spaces for the dissemination of information and the promotion of sincere debate about music and art that aren't in some way influenced by commercial interests are an absolute rarity in 2021. When Luke and I started this site in 2008, the field felt overcrowded with peers, rivals and well-established sites; today there is barely anyone else left but us as a truly independent digital voice supporting the international counterculture at this level, such has been the vicious erosion felt by our industry over the last few years.

To me, the site turning 13 is a big deal because it symbolises the fact we have left childhood behind and moved into adulthood. I hope, now more than ever, it's clear that we're in this for the long haul and for the right reasons. Luke and I have grown up with the site, we have learned how to do this in real time and in public, but it's a process that isn't yet over. I want to look forward to the next 13 years, to how much further we can progress, all of the new culture we will discover and support, not to mention all of the challenges this will bring. I wanted to shout loudly about all of this on our actual birthday, September 1, but couldn't as the site crashed for the entire 24 hours. Sadly, it was only the first of several total outages that month. What should have been a joyful occasion for us was marred by high existential anxiety; for the first time since our inception we hadn’t been able to publish new writing due to the extreme age and instability of the website.

While the subscription model we introduced just over a year ago stopped us from having to shut down immediately and allowed us to navigate the sudden and near complete collapse of advertising revenue, we still face an even larger existential threat due to antiquated technology and a long failing website. It turns out that you can't run a title like the Quietus as if it were a fanzine and that actually we needed full time tech support all along, something we were never able to afford. It's too late for that now anyhow, our current site has long since passed the point of being repairable. All we can do is to keep our fingers crossed that it will keep on going for the time being, patching it up and rebooting it when it goes offline, hoping that each new outage isn't 'the big one', while we desperately try to raise money in order to finance a new home for us and our huge archive. And for this we really need your help.

In 2022, we need to double the number of people who subscribe to the site in order for us to survive as a fully independent site. It would mean a great deal to us if you would consider signing up today. It's not a 'money for nothing' deal; the perks are fantastic and substantial (there are up to 60 of them per year!) and include exclusive music, essays, podcasts, playlists and newsletters. And if you sign up before Christmas, the top tier is currently nearly 40% off in price!

If you like what we do, and you aren't low-waged, a student, on benefits, strapped for cash etc. please take out a subscription. We've put a lot of time and effort into these perks and they aren't pointless gewgaws, fit only for the magpie's nest. Subscriptions, in turn, help support a wide range of musicians, writers, artists and designers. The truth of the matter is that this model means we now pay a reasonable rate for everything we publish, but we're still some way from being able to afford to build a new website. Help us Obi Wan Reader… you're our only hope!

As the site comes of age we are committed to nurturing serious essay writing that has clearly defined creative and practical aims (and please don't take this to be a polemic; we'll be announcing a series of high profile investigative features in the new year). But on top of this we have committed to publishing even more joyful writing, more writing with a strong authorial voice, more weird writing that skilfully unseats or unsettles the reader in psychological terms in order to make them look at well loved cultural artefacts as if for the first time ever, more writing that simply thrills, and more writing that skilfully defines emerging scenes with new producers globally. Also, we definitely want to publish more funny writing as it feels like elsewhere, every aspect of music writing has to be ultra-serious lest a joke be misconstrued or, more likely, perniciously interpreted as being problematic.

We understand that these goals are difficult to achieve; it has never been harder for younger writers to give expression to their unique voice. There is an amplification of the anxiety created by BTL culture, which has all but the most iron-nerved writers on edge and clamping down on their most creative tendencies, bleaching themselves out of the story in order to (notionally) protect themselves from social media opprobrium… and I would include myself among their number some of the time. But we need to make a stand against this poor habit of second guessing in journalism, as it has injected an almost cosmically bland level of faux objectivity into modern writing.

Here at the Quietus we lament the rise of a situation where the noisiest clout-seekers with views held in extreme ill faith; bitter over the hill mansplainers; the disingenuous who luxuriate in elective incomprehension, leaping to the most uncharitable reading of every sentence they encounter; disgusting racially motivated cranks; those who have made it their mission to threaten the safety and peace of mind of members of any marginalised group; the thuggishly entitled cults surrounding pop titans dangerously enraged by anything less than a 100% positive Metacritic score; those who cannot see any kind of beautiful painting without dragging a filthy thumbprint across it, and so on, are allowed to guide the discourse surrounding music to a frightening degree.

And with your help we will continue to offer an alternative.

John Doran

This chart was compiled by John Doran and built by Patrick Clarke and Christian Eede. Ballots were taken from Robert Barry, Jaša Bužinel, Patrick Clarke, John Doran, Christian Eede, Noel Gardner, Ella Kemp, Fergal Kinney, Sean Kitching, Anthea Leyland, Jennifer Lucy Allan, Peter Margasak, David McKenna, JR Moores, Eoin Murray, Stephanie Phillips, Luke Turner, Kez Whelan and Daryl Worthington

100. Celestial –
I Had Too Much To Dream Last Night
Drenched in tape hiss, Manchester-based Celestial's debut LP is a breathtaking jaunt through lo-fi dream pop, its six divine sketches conjured up from little more than a Sequential Circuits Sixtrak synth and guitar. The elysian loops of cuts such as 'Endless', 'Cinnamon Snowflake' and the subtly eerie 'Lonely Weekend' are primed for losing yourself in – I could certainly happily listen to them unfurl for hours.
Christian Eede

99. Marco Shuttle –
Cobalt Desert Oasis
Cobalt Desert Oasis takes in music made across a two-year period, during which Marco Shuttle, real name Marco Sartorelli, collected field recordings from various travels to remote locations, folding them into the album as he went along. The record also sees him make use of his tombak, a Persian hand drum, which appears more prominently here than on past productions. Building on the spellbinding deep techno of his two previous full-length efforts, Sartorelli seamlessly blends the natural world with his drum machines and distinctive approach to modular synthesis, tracing a line between curious 85 BPM rollers such as 'Acrobat', entrancing percussive cuts like 'Tombak Healer', and heads-down emotional club fare in closer '4Dimensional Soundwaves'.
Christian Eede

98. Low –
(Sub Pop)
Low's 13th full-length album finds the group focusing on imaginative new ways to express the joy and dissonance of being alive. It can be argued that anxiety is our natural state; to be completely calm in a world that is beyond our comprehension seems ludicrous. That being said, anyone familiar with the processes of cognitive behavioural therapy knows that we must learn to tolerate the anxiety, and in turn tolerate uncertainty. Where previous album Double Negative allowed us to hear what was wrong, HEY WHAT is the sound of transcending pain while being comfortable with its presence.
Hayley Scott

97. LoneLady –
Former Things
Opening her first record since 2015's Hinterland, Julie Campbell intones, "O youthful wonder it was all inside when I was a child. Why does it fall so far away?" The pretty New Order-like guitar tones on the intro to 'The Catcher', first track on Former Things, guide the listener through a dense jungle of bouncing 808 patterns, samples that lacerate the ear, and sludgy bass notes. This is a record in which Campbell is suspended between past and future. The machine-funk tendencies of the instrumentation throughout do well to make the world in which she inhabits a sparse stopping-gap before taking the next step forward. Her humble presence makes her a perfect leader to navigate such universal, existential concerns.
Zara Hedderman

96. Ruth Mascelli –
A Night At The Baths
Special Interest's Ruth Mascelli describes their solo debut album, A Night At The Baths, as "an audio diary of adventures had at various bathhouses, dark rooms, and gay clubs while on tour with Special Interest and traveling on my own." They add that working on it "was a way of wrapping my head around my own experiences in those very specific surroundings but also an attempt to connect to the current of queer history flowing through those spaces." Across eight deep and engrossing cuts, Mascelli draws on psychedelic acid squiggles, pulsating techno and more reflective fare, drawing proceedings to a beautifully melancholic close in the lush synths of standout cut 'Missing Men'.
Christian Eede

95. Senyawa –
(Phantom Limb)
Senyawa's chaotic approach to experimental music owes a lot to the cut and thrust of heavy metal. Alkisah is a destructive, scattered, and dramatic record, and the band's previous experiments with metal royalty are teased through every pore. But their real power comes from a clear understanding of the emotional intentions of metal's loudest and most devastating form, and by transposing moods and textures to a different set of instruments, they get to the same sinister conclusion through radically different methods.
Tom Coles

94. Mdou Moctar –
Afrique Victime
Afrique Victime is Mdou Moctar's most polished release to date but the space opened up (partly through the use of acoustic guitars) is one that allows Moctar maximum room to let rip with some incendiary playing. The album's title track features a literally furious solo, and as Moctar explains, "I made the tracks using pedals that are angry sounding to show my anger about the African situation."
David McKenna

93. Turnstile –
If 2018’s Time & Space felt like an enormous step forward for Baltimore hardcore punks Turnstile, a major label debut of rare compactness and focus, its follow-up GLOW ON launches them to a different plane entirely. Searing away from any of the trappings associated with hardcore without merely genre-hopping for the sake of it, it’s as deep, rich and melodic as it is heavy.
Patrick Clarke

92. Antonina Nowacka –
Vocal Sketches From Oaxaca
Vocal Sketches From Oaxaca feels like the next in a series after Lamunan, an album that saw Antonina Nowacka sing alone in a fortress in Poland, and also in a cave on the island of Java. This next release collects recordings made in small churches she searched out while travelling around Oaxaca in Mexico on the trail of historic organs, few of which she found or was able to access. (I for one am glad this is a vocal record and not an organ record as I am bored to tears by the latter.) These vocal sketches on the other hand, are wonderfully compelling. Unpretentious and instinctive, they come off like sweet and uncanny spirituals sung for an audience of one. There is something about Nowacka's improvisational vocabulary, of pitch and progression, pace and intent, that makes these sound as if they exist on a threshold between now and a far away past.
Jennifer Lucy Allan

91. Vanishing Twin –
Ookii Gekkou
In an interview with tQ in 2018, Vanishing Twin's Phil MFU said that "Jazz is all about the relationship of sounds moving in space." This quotation seems fitting when applied to Ookii Gekkou, as it seems to exist in perpetual motion, forever wobbling between opposites. For instance, in 'The Organism', the exotica-tinged arrangement with its fluttering eddies of xylophone is tempered by the domestic, intimate sample of a cat purring. The eerie glockenspiel ostinato on 'Big Moonlight' seems to herald the opening of a portal to another world. These instances where a certain element is introduced which completely re-defines the song are peppered over the album. Vanishing Twin use these moments so evocatively that they're almost filmic: the chanted vocal choruses in 'Big Moonlight', 'In Cucina', and 'Wider Than Itself' are reminiscent of stumbling on a ceremony to some vengeful Pagan god in the woods. You can almost smell the pyre.
Will Ainsley

90. Angharad Davies –
gwneud a gwneud eto / do and do again
(All That Dust)
Veteran Welsh experimental violinist engages in an extreme pursuit, following a loose road map of extended techniques on a harrowing 52-minute trip. The microscopic gestures and electronic-like thrum are daunting, both for performer and listener. Davies listened to her first pass on headphones, filling in the gaps and supplementing flagging energy with a second layer of sound. It's a truly psychedelic experience.
Peter Margasak

89. Fluisteraars –
Gegrepen Door De Geest Der Zielsontluiking
The first half of Gegrepen Door De Geest Der Zielsontluiking is taken up by two long pieces, with filthy opener 'Het Overvleugelen Der Meute' kicking right off with the album's most evil, aggressive material. By contrast, 'Brand Woedt In Mijn Graf' is absolutely beautiful, dragging ritualistic black metal murk kicking and screaming into brighter, shinier pastures, with the hypnotic beat, swirling synths and B. Mollema's dramatic, wailed vocals bringing to mind Urfaust, albeit it in a much less dark but equally sinister way; Urfaust if they were to score Midsommar, for example. The second half consists of the gargantuan, full-side-of-vinyl filling 'Verscheuring In De Schemering', a thoroughly enveloping piece of driving, minimal and psychedelic black metal that pushes into space rock territory at times, especially the sparse, Sun Ra-style freak out in the middle and subsequent lapse into glistening, pineal gland squeezing riff worship that follows.
Kez Whelan

88. Converge & Chelsea Wolfe –
Bloodmoon: I
(Epitaph / Deathwish)
Unsurprisingly, Bloodmoon: I is at its best when Chelsea Wolfe really unleashes atop Converge's taut, claustrophobic churn, with the ominous, dramatic opener 'Blood Moon' and jittery yet anthemic 'Lord Of Liars' being clear standouts. Hearing her and Jacob Bannon scream in unison over an apocalyptically dissonant Kurt Ballou riff in the former is really something, whilst the latter sees Wolfe finding interesting ways to contort her voice across a typically tense mathcore jangle from Converge – it's moments like these that really fulfil the promise of teaming up these two respective powerhouses.
Kez Whelan

87. Perkins & Federwisch –
One Dazzling Moment
(Strategic Tape Reserve)
One Dazzling Moment is billed as contemporary schlager, and over a queasy backing of budget electric keyboard melodies and splattered bleeps, Chip Perkins and Uli Federwisch conjure up songs of pilotless drones and venomous woodland creatures. The vocalist seems consumed by a cranky malaise somewhere between Gregor Samsa and Jack Duckworth, their scattered, banal observations poignant despite containing an unending bathos. There's a desert dry humour running through One Dazzling Moment, but it's never at the listener's expense.
Daryl Worthington

86. The Altered Hours –
(Pizza Pizza)
In the space of just seven tracks in 30 minutes, Convertible, The Altered Hours' second album, says more than most can manage in twice the space. There's not a second wasted. From the opening detonation of 'You Are Wrong' through to the weather-beaten psychedelia of closer '7 Years', they have never sounded this sharp. The music here is urgent and arresting, with Cathal Mac Gabhann and Elaine Howley's vocals billowing like plumes of smoke around beams of distorted guitar, Nora Lewon's crashing drums and Patrick Cullen's rib-shaking bass. 'Love You' is pure rock & roll electricity, with Mac Gabhann's Kevin Shields-like croon leading the charge into a full shred fest. 'Radiant Wound' explodes with frustration at the country's housing crisis, it's unvarnished refrain – "City I love, city I hate" – hitting like a punch straight to the gut.
Eoin Murray

85. Taqbir –
Victory Belongs To Those Who Fight For A Right Cause
(La Vida Es Un Mus)
Taqbir play exhilarating, fuzzy pogopunk, their Arabic lyrics about Islamic patriarchy belted out with stirring desperation: 'Al-Zuki Akbar' has a classic uberpunk bassline that bubbles like hot glue, a sassy spoken word bit and what sounds suspiciously like a few "OI!"s, while 'Tfou 3lik' has the same go-for-the-throat apoplexy that makes Nekra so great.
Noel Gardner

84. My Bloody Sex Party –
Vol. 2
(Zoomin’ Night)
Making Gasaneta sound like Steely Dan, My Bloody Sex Party's first album, Vol.1, was a tumbling trip through teenage mucking about: some Beatles earworms, a Dead Kennedys riff, a rendition of happy birthday, and snare drum rolls. It was not even loosely held together, was a maddening and charming bounce around a rehearsal space, a pummelling of instruments with the first melody that comes to mind. I loved it, so went straight in for Vol.2, on which they seem to have improved, but not too much. It opens with a picked riff and some great dissonant shredding, but don't worry, it quickly descends into something less coherent. There's traditional Chinese instruments like the pipa, traditional rock parts like drums and guitar, samples from TV and a calculator is also listed as being played. However, they seem to be listening to each other more on Vol.2, and it's a little more composed, with 'little' being the operative word.
Jennifer Lucy Allan

83. Laura Cannell & Kate Ellis –
May Sounds
The monthly EP releases on Laura Cannell's Brawl label are equally-weighted collaborations with cellist Kate Ellis, who has played in groups including Fovea Hex and Crash Ensemble. These recordings, which continue themes coined by both musicians and others on 2020 album These Feral Lands, cite the inspiration of locations in Suffolk and Essex, and myriad flora including the wild garlic growing in Ellis' Dublin garden come spring. May Sounds features Cannell's most self-evidently personal recording to date in 'We Took Short Journeys', featuring spoken lyrics about the recent death of someone close. 'Earth Day' evokes both early music and 1960s minimalism, while the two-part 'Not Forgotten' is where Ellis' layered cellos shine most mournfully.
Noel Gardner

82. Mirage –
Think of all your favourite songs by Scritti Politti, Grace Jones, Mylène Farmer, Adele Bertei, Wham!. Now imagine that none of the people who wrote those songs really wrote those songs. Imagine they all ripped them off – the melodies, the rhythms, the sound, the feel, the lot. Imagine it was all stolen from some other artist, some obscure studio-bound hermit without the looks and the money and the record label pull. Imagine some baroque conspiracy to have the music of that original artist suppressed. Every copy of their work deleted and pulped. Just one third gen copy remaining, buried in a ditch for decades, then finally dug up, a little warped, a little grimy. Do you ever hear a record and feel like it's been made just for you?
Robert Barry

81. Squid –
Bright Green Field
The best thing about Bright Green Field – and Squid in general – is how fun it is. There is a tendency with similar post-punk acts to be dour or morbid. There is nothing wrong with that. The themes that they write about are generally downbeat. But Squid manage to inject bouncy rhythms to their tales of modern living. After the scene-setting forty-second opening track 'Resolution Square', 'G.S.K.' comes at you with lumbering rhythms and roguish guitars. Think The Fall covering ESG and you're on the right track. Over this, drummer and vocalist Ollie Judge shouts, "As the sun sets on the Glaxo Klein / Well, it's the only way that I can tell the time," after which huge funky horns explode from the speakers before a jaunty, yet incredibly catchy, guitar motif appears, disappears, then reappears. It sets the tone for the rest of the album.
Nick Roseblade

80. Richard Youngs –
(Black Truffle)
These two long pieces are a study in chance operations, but unlike a great many benchmark works in that field by John Cage and his ilk, Richard Youngs has set up limitations that make CXXI pleasing to the ear, if not wholly satisfying to the pattern-craving mind. In a sense, this makes the music more transgressive: like Brian Eno or Gavin Bryars before him, Youngs has a knack for taking challenging concepts and making them palatable to those who might not otherwise seek out being challenged by music. An invaluable skill, that, and one that's undoubtedly pried open many a mind over these last few decades.
Dustin Krcatovich

79. Hedvig Mollestad –
Tempest Revisited
(Rune Grammofon)
Tempest Revisited is a beautiful and inspiring suite of music, by turns both lyrical and aggressive, evocative of the elements in their many different forms. Opener 'Sun On A Dark Sky' initiates the proceedings with a serene but eerie flute passage and some brief but ominous drums hinting at stormier weather to come later on. Early highlight 'Winds Approaching' kicks off with a flurry of handclaps and syncopated percussion, before the arrival of some propulsive blasts of resonant baritone sax and a subtle yet doomy guitar riff that returns at the end of the piece with renewed vigour. 'Kittywakes In Gusts' takes a jazzier approach, twin saxes swirling like seabirds riding eddies in the wind.
Sean Kitching

78. Snapped Ankles –
Forest Of Your Problems
Forest Of Your Problems' spoken word third track, 'Shifting Basslines Of The Cornucopians', is a sturdy yet exhilarating journey – a common theme spread across this album. "It's a great time to be alive," bellows the band's Paddy Austin and somehow these words exude both 'where have you been for the past year' vibes with just a glimpse of zeal, as we're just days into 'normality'. Forest Of Your Problems is a project of reassurance that we will dance again.
Laviea Thomas

77. Koreless –
After five years of trial and error with meticulous attention to every detail, Koreless is back with a simply breathtaking debut album that was absolutely worth the wait. If there's one adjective worth applying here, it's hyper-polished (in the best possible sense), meaning this is formidably palpable electronic music with an almost holographic quality, so much so it kinda locks you in and paralyses all your senses from the first to the last glassy tone. Everything's so well-thought out on Agor — the tracklisting is immaculate, the sonic drama triangle is used to its full potential, and its production quality is almost without equal. Despite being so supernaturally artificial, made of something I could only describe as digital ice, this is some of the most emotional music I've heard all year — cyber-bliss guaranteed.
Jaša Bužinel

76. Leather Rats –
No Live 'Til Leather '98
(Bokeh Versions)
Leather Rats are like Hasil Adkins on tour with Suicide when Craig Leon was on the desk; they're Lux Interior and Keith Hudson for On-U Sound. This is dub music for sewer dwelling punks. Think Escape From New York dystopia dancehall emanating from a subterranean basement club – damp and rotten, infested with low echo and sound seepage – only with a Wembley-sized audience green screened in. Apparently Leather Rats were a psychobilly punk act but Bokeh Versions is going for psychodubilly and I can dig the concept, big time, if not quite get behind the neologism. The story is they never made it into a studio – these live recordings are allegedly from Japan in the late '90s where they also allegedly had a huge following... but make of that what you will. I can enjoy any fictional backstory if it comes with zombie licks like this.
Jennifer Lucy Allan

75. Jorja Chalmers –
Midnight Train
(Italians Do It Better)
Midnight Train takes in smooth-but-wavey slowburner synth pop from multi-instrumentalist Jorja Chalmers, who can also be found playing saxophone for Bryan Ferry, and just because such a role is an almost self-parodic idea of 'classiness', it doesn't mean that her second solo album isn't very classy. Strolling hither and yon between ambient, electro and jazz, Chalmers produced Midnight Train herself (although Chromatics' Johnny Jewel "executive produced" this, the meaning of which is mysterious as ever) and generally comes off like an auteur to watch out for.
Noel Gardner

74. Bloody Head –
The Temple Pillars Dissolve Into The Clouds
(Hominid Sounds)
Punx, metalheads, metalpunx and general ne’erdowells develop (ugh!) their Nottingham-located project from a sludgy noiserock dirge with psychedelic leanings into… a psychedelic dirge with sludgy noiserock leanings. The result, Bloody Head's second LP, sits pretty on the Hominid Sounds label alongside bands like Casual Nun and Melting Hand; the clouds of the title rain down acidic chaos and deceptively sharp riffs.
Noel Gardner

73. Ursula Sereghy –
OK Box
Prague-based Ursula Sereghy's OK Box seems to challenge the listener to a different mode of perception, undoubtedly following its own internal logic yet making perfect sense. Sereghy's background is as a saxophone player in jazz bands, but OK Box sees her step into working solo, "experimenting with machines and sound design", according to the liner notes. The pieces unfurl like a 1970s fibre-optic lamp, lines of ideas firing multi-directionally outwards from a centre but never totally unhinging themselves from the base. The whole tape seems to strive towards shedding hierarchies, pointing away from electronic music's traditional unison and tight structures to something far more open ended and genuinely transcendent.
Daryl Worthington

72. GNOD –
La Mort Du Sens
(Rocket Recordings)
This album may be GNOD at their most direct, but GNOD are still GNOD. They cover a lot of territory in just over 30 minutes, while still taking time to get more than a little weird. 'Pink Champagne Blues' thrashes unrelentingly. 'Town' stomps and groans. 'The Whip And The Tongue' goes full-on S&M sleaze skronk. On the album's longest track, 'Giro Day', GNOD ratchet up the intensity of their scorched-earth noise over 12 bracing minutes. By the end, it's like getting sandblasted – but in a positive way.
Bernie Brooks

71. At The Gates –
The Nightmare Of Being
(Century Media)
Easily the most adventurous, daring and surprising album that At The Gates have released since reforming, The Nightmare Of Being feels like a whole new chapter for the band, expanding their trademark melodic riffage into more progressive and psychedelic pastures. The opening combo of 'Spectre Of Extinction' (featuring a scorching Andy LaRocque guest solo) and 'The Paradox' is great but only hints at the album's overall scope, continuing the dark but stirring sound of To Drink, but with a slightly more melancholic vibe. After this though, the record really broadens out, with the unexpectedly gorgeous 'Garden Of Cyrus' playing out like a late '70s King Crimson vista, even boasting a beautiful saxophone solo.
Kez Whelan

70. Vapour Theories –
Celestial Scuzz
If you are one of the Bardo Believers, here's the latest recording from the band's sibling guitar-and-effects maestros, John and Michael Gibbons, under their Vapour Theories alias. You probably know what to expect by now. You'll be right, and you will not be disappointed. Beautifully thick, intertwining guitar tones, yanked down from heaven itself and presented to you on a golden turntable. 'High Treason' has an acoustic hippie-folk vibe to mix things up a bit but it's the surrounding heavier and denser numbers that really fool your brain into thinking you've died and are now floating in lysergic limbo. There's something about the wonkily melodic guitar line that bobs around below the fatly distorted surface of 'The Big Ship' that really brings a tear to my (third?) eye.
JR Moores

69. Jeff Parker –
(International Anthem)
On Forfolks, Tortoise guitarist Jeff Parker uses efficient looping to create mesmerising environments, humid and warm, and unleash his masterful improvisations, revisiting pieces that he wrote decades ago like 'La Jetée', giving them a new context that allows the listener to appreciate its brilliance in a new light. On the other hand, his straight-ahead reading of the standard 'My Ideal' is so tonally sumptuous and tunefully generous that it provides a potent reminder of what a great jazz soloist he is. His music often works like a balm – something still much needed – so maybe that's why I've embraced this album so fervently, but regardless of the context, Parker has been one of my favourite musicians for decades. This matches anything he's produced during his career so far.
Peter Margasak

68. Jane Weaver –
Flock is the 1990s as taped-from-the-TV versions of Naked and KLF vanity projects, the ticking beats of Trans-Europe and Trans-American compilations, Suede's electric grimoire, Beta bandaids, the Family Of God LP and the collective psyched-out idiocy on Ochre Records, Giant Steps from various switched on Scouse and Wool bands, Superfurry animism, Broadcast's divinations into the underground currents of Eurofilm, Stereolab laying down their subliminal grooves akin to an amped-up Philip Sidney gig, and a Krautrock-sampling Cope acting as underground cheerleader. Interesting, offbeat people doing their thing, in other words. And Jane Weaver is one of them.
Richard Foster

67. Rien Virgule –
La Consolation Des Violettes
(Murailles Music)
Rien Virgule's third album is their first following the death of member Jean-Marc Reilla, who contributed electroacoustic noise to the group's dense, claustrophobic sound. Carrying on under the circumstances can't have been easy, but on La Consolation Des Violettes the remaining trio of Anne Careil (voice and synths), Mathias Pontevia (drums and samples) and Manuel Duval (synths and samples) have succeeded in fashioning something both terror-stricken and cathartic. Awe and unease are conveyed by Careil's pallid, processed vocals – sometimes virtually liquified, or sucked backwards like Carole Anne calling out through the TV in Poltergeist – and these gradually unfolding pieces with their scraped, clattered rhythms. There's a thrilling sauvagerie to the galloping rhythm and eastern melodies of 'Le Cri Du Typograph', 'Toque De Clous' has a heightened, carnivalesque quality, like a Danny Elfman score recorded in a dank medieval crypt and 'L'Ogresse Amoureuse' is traversed by creepy incidental noises as it ascends inexorably to a gothic peak. Brace yourself.
David McKenna

66. Aging ~ Land Trance –
Embassy Nocturnes
(Tombed Visions)
You can hear both Land Trance and Aging on their collaborative record, the former's hypnotic lattices of texture, and the latter's deep, resonant atmospheres. What you hear most, though, is the old building in which they worked. Named Embassy Nocturnes in tribute, the album's eerie echoes are like reverberations from a dark and cavernous hallway, its hypnotic gloomy beauty like the dilapidated glamour of a forgotten ballroom, its distorted chimes like the tolling of a haunted grandfather clock. Listening to the album, it is as if the building's spirit itself has somehow been made audible; you can sense the presence of all those hidden histories and secret compartments around every corner, little fragments of something too big and too old to consume in one go.
Patrick Clarke

65. Clairo –
Clairo writes music that finds you in places – geographical and mental – and takes you out of them for a few minutes. They are songs that follow you around, that play on the radio as you're driving on the motorway, or in a warm flat amongst a gathering of friends, something that sweetly permeates your stream of normalcy. I first found Clairo on a train to Manchester. Despite listening to post-punk consistently for a month at that point, somehow my Spotify Daily Mix brought me to her, and I saved 'Pretty Girl' because I liked how airily intimate it felt. I later realised that this is what Clairo creates when she reflects and warps her life into art: organic, fragile gems.
Georgie Brooke

64. Helm –
His commitment to the scuzzy and undernourished established, it still seems fair to say that Axis is definitely Luke Younger's heaviest album under the Helm moniker. At points crushingly airless and under-lit, the record has a glower that's slightly at odds with previous Helm records; a crackling dark energy perfectly summed up by the solar eclipse on its cover.
Mat Colegate

63. Claire Rousay –
a softer focus
(American Dreams)
A snowdrift of long, languorous organ notes. Whistling tones, like swallows arcing through the sky. A rustle of foley. There's crackling, crinkling – it's hard to tell exactly what is going on, but there's a sense of activity, things happening – real things, somewhere in a real place. A flicker of light. Then the whole edifice collapses suddenly, like the air has been sucked out. There's a breath, the music takes a beat. Then into the clearing – and I mean that literally: picture a forest clearing, or like clearing a desk, just sweep all that clutter out the way – a voice rises up. "I'm trying not to miss you." It's Claire Rousay's 'own' voice – but rendered alien, synthesised into virtual life with the familiar stepped trill of autotune software spinning gothic melismas from that third syllable: "not." A cyborg, rococo refusal.
Robert Barry

62. Manic Street Preachers –
The Ultra Vivid Lament
Just when you're counting Manic Street Preachers out, they have repeatedly proven themselves capable of bouncing back fully recharged and within touching distance of the peak of their abilities. Exactly where The Ultra Vivid Lament, the band's 14th album, ranks in their oeuvre will only really become clear when the dust has settled. With the first few listens, the initial sense is that if it's not in their top five, then it's arguably top half. Its pleasures are not obvious, slap-you-in-the-face ones. If it has a close relative in the band's back catalogue, it is 2004's underestimated, under-loved Lifeblood. It moves in subtle shades, pastels rather than primaries, building its moods more delicately than the Route One surges and crescendos of Resistance Is Futile.
Simon Price

61. Sylvie Courvoisier & Mary Halvorson –
Searching For The Disappeared Hour
As with the best improvised music, it's often hard to tell what's composed and what's spontaneous, a quality that's heightened by the intense interactivity on display across Searching For The Disappeared Hour, with line upon intricately woven line emitting tangy harmony and charged melodic counterpoint. I might ordinarily flinch when an opening track references 'Moonlight Sonata', which Sylvie Courvoisier injects on Mary Halvorson's 'Golden Proportion', but it creeps up so naturally, as every give-and-take gesture does here, that it feels inexorably spot-on. There are a few improvisations among the album's dozen tracks, but they benefit from the duo's astonishing rapport, which transmits a chamber-like precision even in the most seat-of-the-pants exchanges. It's a detail-rich knockout, from start to finish.
Peter Margasak

60. Årabrot –
Norwegian Gothic
Norwegian Gothic, Årabrot's ninth album, is as dynamic and unpredictable as ever, stuffed with squalling sex and death anthems that could career off the rails at any moment. Like all the band's albums, Kjetil Nernes has roped in a revolving cast of musicians, this time including Lars Horntveth (Jaga Jazzist), cellist Jo Quail, Tomas Järmyr (Motorpsycho), Anders Møller (Turbonegro, Ulver) and Massimo Pupillo (Zu), but Karin Park's influence slices through the noise. Squeezed in amongst the nods to punk, black and industrial metal, anthemic choruses push Årabrot's sound into new dimensions on 'Kinks Of The Heart' and 'The Lie', and the snakelike grooves and synths of 'The Rule Of Silence'. It's like sherbet for Swans fans.
Dannii Leivers

The trio of Astrud Steehouder, Luke J. Murray and Alexander Tucker get drawn into the Downwards spiral for this superb debut release on Karl O'Connor's always intriguing label. Intriguingly, it sits as a counterpoint to another of my favourite records of 2021, O'Connor's old mucker Surgeon's Transcendence Orchestra project with Dan Bean. Where that evokes a spangled mind quietly observing tree tops kissed by the last of the sun, NONEXISTENT's drones, earthy growls and watery murmurings steal through the shattered roots of autumn's destruction.
Luke Turner

58. William Parker –
Mayan Space Station
(AUM Fidelity)
One of two trio recordings, along with Painter's Winter, released (unusually for William Parker) on vinyl on the same day, Mayan Space Station is the New York bassist and composer's first electric guitar trio album. Parker and drummer Gerald Cleaver are on predictably great form here, but it's guitarist Ava Mendoza's contribution that's likely to appear as revelatory to anyone who isn't already familiar with her work. Mendoza's versatile playing has touches of the great Sonny Sharrock to it, but doesn't overly rely on shredding as some of Sharrock's more obvious imitators do. 'Tabasco' sizzles as one might expect, Mendoza adding a perfectly tangential fractal of guitar scree to Parker and Cleaver's loping beats. The title track, meanwhile, ascends ever skyward, driven by Parker’s propulsive bass and Cleaver's brittle, metallic-sounding drumming, over which Mendoza's exploratory guitar lines branch out like searching fingers reaching out into the infinity of open space.
Sean Kitching

57. Time Binding Ensemble –
Nothing New Under The Sun
Nothing New Under The Sun by Time Binding Ensemble, a solo venture by Helena Celle despite the name, is the artist's first double LP, and its rigid concept ("24 parts of equal length, the collection cycling through each key of the musical scale") harbours a remarkably expansive, ambitious and moving confluence of ambient drone and modern classical.
Noel Gardner

56. Max Syedtollan / Plus-Minus Ensemble –
Four Assignments
Four Assignments is a totally unexpected listen, bearing little resemblance to anything an audience might reasonably expect to hear. This is an exciting prospect. It is extremely rare to come across a record that baffles, confounds and delights in the way this does. As an expression of a completely unfettered individual vision it is a triumph, and it strongly suggests that the experimental music scene in Glasgow in general, and at GLARC in particular, is a thriving, creative force.
Tom Bolton

55. Slikback –
Slikback is unforgiving when it comes to forging the meanest, most abrasive and face-melting textures, and conjuring the most anxious, panic-inducing atmospheres. MELT could almost be described as an unintentional follow-up to The Bug's recent masterpiece Fire, both in terms of rage and sandpaper aesthetic. But instead of unrelentless soundsystem pressure and mesmerising vocals, the focus is on undulating polyrhythms and grimy, dissonant and abrasive metal sonics with a quality not dissimilar to sludge metal, next gen East African grindcore in the vein of Duma (especially the opener 'TOKETA'), French gabber, Nazar's rough kuduro and industrial hip hop acts, such as Death Grips and clipping..
Jaša Bužinel

54. Goodbye World –
At Death's Door
(Youth Attack)
The five members of Goodbye World, a hardcore punk band split unevenly between New York, Chicago and Denver, have collectively played in dozens of other hardcore punk bands. This, their debut - an LP lasting 12 minutes, if your value system can accept such a thing - is about as good as anything they've previously put their name to. Phenomenally economical in its mean structure, recorded impeccably (which is to say it feels like a neverending noggin-clubbing) and lyrically erudite while imagining awful events, like most things released on Goodbye World guitarist Mark McCoy's label Youth Attack it already goes for collector prices. Do what you need to do to hear it.
Noel Gardner

53. Andy Stott –
Never The Right Time
(Modern Love)
The delicate voice of Andy Stott's regular collaborator Alison Skidmore can be heard across Never The Right Time. Functioning as the fulcrum of his vaporous pop songs, the album leans heavily on his signature multi-faceted sound-art stereo imaging, and the fine balance between anxious atmospherics and forlorn club bangers for which he is known. Similar to many of his momentous releases, the album functions like a fictitious rainy day playlist that might be played regularly at the Black Lodge, "a place of dark forces that pull on this world," in the words of Twin Peaks character Hawk. Seeing release in April when the premonition of a possibly different summer dwelt on the horizon amid vaccination boosts, it might all seem rather gloomy, but there are still plenty of us enamoured with Stott's phantasmatic soundtrack to 2010s anhedonia.
Jaša Bužinel

52. Oliver Leith –
'Me Hollywood'
(Another Timbre)
Wildly versatile and deeply imaginative British composer Oliver Leith reaches a new apotheosis with his collection of pieces masterfully interpreted by Explore Ensemble. The witty title composition conveys his mordant humor within a framework that smashes any line between minimalism and post-modern collisions. I've heard some of these works in radically different arrangements, such as an all-electronic take on his "Balloon," revealing that his writing is sturdy enough to endure all sorts of interpretations. Dude is only 31!
Peter Margasak

51. Frog Of Earth –
Frog Of Earth
The uncanny world Mel Keane builds as Frog Of Earth is one you'll find yourself exploring again and again. In a mysterious ecosystem of babbling ambient electronics, amorphous beats and vibrant melodic swirls, we join our amphibious friend as it contemplates and reacts to its ever-shifting surroundings. The liner notes for the release describe the frog as it fends off panic and confusion, and tries to find peace in a world that doesn't make sense anymore, before realising that acceptance is the key. The message, if you can call it that, is a stoic one, and makes the escapist adventure of this album all the more enticing and transcendent.
Eoin Murray

50. Melvins –
Working With God
Melvins have stretched belligerence into a fine art and then some over their many active years. From formless, jagged noise rock to Dadaist sludge metal, the one uniting theme through their career is a will to transgress, to bemuse, and to sow confusion. On a good day it's hard to tell signal from noise – and there's a lot of noise here, on their 24th record. With the re-addition of Mike Dillard, they're back to their 1983 lineup, last visited on 2013's Tres Cabrones. With this, Working With God carries the air of a heady reunion. It careers from familiar, high-energy, hooky sludge rock to little snippets of in-jokes, and then back again.
Tom Coles

49. Succumb –
Californian quartet Succumb's self-titled 2017 debut is still one of the most unique, abrasive and fascinating death metal records of the 2010s, and this follow-up doesn't drop the ball whatsoever. The lightspeed, grinding insanity of 'Lilim' leading straight into the sinister Portal-esque claustrophobia of 'Maenad' is one hell of a way to open the record, immediately demonstrating how much more lethal the band's faster sections have become and how much creepier and more uncomfortable their slower passages are now too. At just over half an hour, the intensity of those first two-tracks doesn't dissipate at all for the duration of XXI. The churning six-minute 'Smoke' is a great example of how adept Succumb are at maintaining that tension, juggling dizzying stop-start grindcore phrases with dense, dark death metal and sustained, rolling tremolo riffs that feel like having your skin slowly peeled off.
Kez Whelan

48. Ruth Goller –
(Vula Viel)
Ruth Goller's songs on Skylla play out like a game of pass the story along between composer and instrument. Flurries of notes met with bouncing clusters of vocal phrases. An idea knocked back and forth, extended and elaborated in a state of constant evolution. The result feels deeply emergent, a dialogue which is maze-like yet open ended. Bassist with Acoustic Ladyland and Melt Yourself Down, Goller's performed and recorded with the likes of Shabaka Hutchings and Paul McCartney, but Skylla marks her debut solo statement. Each track is composed with a different tuning, the artist using that unfamiliarity as a vehicle into an instinctive, reactive approach to composition.
Daryl Worthington

47. Japanese Breakfast –
(Dead Oceans)
After a year of lockdown records, 2021 ushered into our lives the new genre of the 'post-pandemic' album. One such example is Japanese Breakfast’s Jubilee. Celebratory and suffused in optimism, it chimes with the sense of a long dark night finally drawing to a close. This isn't by coincidence. Michelle Zauner – the Korean-American native of Eugene, Oregon, who has used Japanese Breakfast as a stage name since 2016's Psychopomp – could write the book about coming out of the shadows and facing towards the dawn. Following an extended and disorientating lockdown of the soul, she's ready for change. Jubilee finds her figuratively cracking open the shutters and engaging once again with the outside world.
Ed Power
46. Rufus Isabel Elliot –
A/am/ams (come ashore, turn over)
Released by Greater Lanarkshire Auricular Research Council (GLARC), in association with Over/At, the "trans-music making world" founded by composer Rufus Isabel Elliott, A/am/ams (come ashore, turn over) is a "kind of one-act play" scored for violin, guitar, and bass, with the voice of traditional Scottish singer Josie Vallely. Tender and tentative, criss-crossing genres and disciplines with ease and familiarity, Elliott's work has a keen ear for the physicality of things: whether that's the taut grain of a close-miked violin or the subtle intrusion of the recording environment onto the tape head. A/am/ams (come ashore, turn over) could be a love letter written in passionate cursive penmanship, or a violent threat assembled from cut-out newsprint, or an archive fragment from another civilization, another time, another world.
Robert Barry

45. Hawthonn –
Earth Mirror
(Ba Da Bing!)
While Coil might serve as Hawthonn's spiritual locus and Nurse With Wound a frequent comparison, the sound they've reached on Earth Mirror sees them seep stylistically outward. And while there's no denying that this is an esoteric and decidedly uncommercial release, it's one that has the power to draw fans of other experimental genres into its puzzling orbit. Occasionally, for instance, you get the sense that the album could serve as a dark, disintegrating inversion of the bucolic cheer to be found within Virginia Astley's From Gardens Where We Feel Secure. At others you get a hint of how Labradford's quiet sorrows might have sounded if they were transplanted to some chilly British moor and force-fed a lifetime's worth of folkloric weirdness. Sometimes, the strongest links seem to be those occupying the further-flung fringes of modern heaviness.
Alex Deller

44. Erika de Casier –
Drawing on the sultry throwback energy of '90s and '00s R&B, Erika de Casier's second album is a subtle masterpiece. Working with frequent collaborator Natal Zaks (AKA DJ Central, of Denmark's Regelbau collective), the pair look to a number of trademarks of the R&B that defined the turn of the millennium, drawing as much on the acoustic guitars that appeared on classic Destiny's Child and Brandy album cuts as the overall oeuvre of Sade's best work. Crucially though, Sensational isn't simply a pastiche affair, as de Casier refines the smoky afterhours energy of her 2019 debut LP, Essentials, and builds ever more confidently on the music of her upbringing.
Christian Eede

43. Godspeed You! Black Emperor –
Split into four tracks – two 20-minute passages of dense instrumentation with equally dense titles (the record opens with 'A Military Alphabet (five eyes all blind) (4521.0kHz 6730.0kHz 4109.09kHz) / Job's Lament / First Of The Last Glaciers / where we break how we shine (ROCKETS FOR MARY)'), and two shorter cuts – G_d's Pee AT STATE'S END! is ironically Godspeed You! Black Emperor's least dystopian record to date. Church bells chime under layers of driving guitars and militaristic drums, and amongst the AM radio static that fills the background, there's birdsong and, whisper it, a sense of hope. As the album's opening track comes to an end, it's punctuated by distant explosions; they could be gunshots, but also, they could be fireworks.
Mike Vinti

42. ---__--___ –
The Heart Pumps Kool-Aid
There is something of the atmosphere of a Pipilotti Rist installation about this collaboration between Orange Milk label founder Seth Graham and Austin multi-instrumentalist More Eaze. Woozy and psychedelic, oneiric and melancholic, these nine short tracks combine ambient electronics and frantic orchestration with a liberal and highly expressive use of autotuned vocals. Flurries of squawking woodwinds dance around android torch songs, and strange murmurs hover in the middle distance, but perhaps the most important element here is luxurious use of space and silence. The Heart Pumps Kool-Aid manages to feel dramatic – even overwrought – yet incredibly intimate, whisper close.
Robert Barry

41. Dry Cleaning –
New Long Leg
With New Long Leg, Dry Cleaning have put away childish things, and as for the production, the imagery, the craft on display: they're all the better for it. To start, there's certainly more time to fill here. Florence Shaw's formerly rapid delivery now allows for instrumental breaks, encouraging Lewis Maynard and Nick Buxton to build loftier soundscapes. A two-minute pause in 'Every Day Carry' envelops the listener in the band's own biosphere, completed by Shaw's references to the flora, fauna, fatbergs and firearms that have all been accumulating in her lyrical repertoire since the heady-days of 2019.
Nancy Collinge

40. Ed Dowie –
The Obvious I
(Needle Mythology)
It's very easy for an artist with such an obviously well-stocked larder to throw the entire plate of spaghetti at the wall – meatballs, sauce, and all – and see what sticks. Ed Dowie's minimalist instincts temper those potential excesses. The Obvious I never swings for the fences and misses, never over-reaches, and doesn't outstay its welcome. It's sculpted and contoured to within an inch of its life. At the same time, such admirable restraint occasionally stops the record from living up to its promise. 'Dear Florence' could soar into something huge and stirring but is content to stay modest, even meek. Closer, 'Robot Joy Army' grows some teeth but never has the conviction to truly sink them into anything.
Marc Burrows

39. Grouper –
Shade is made up of songs spanning Liz Harris' career, providing evidence that for as prolific as she has been — this is her twelfth album in 15 years — there was still something left in the vaults. The record stands in stark relief from recent Grouper output, first and foremost for its production qualities. Those familiar with older Grouper recordings will recognise the swampy reverb of 'Followed The Ocean' or 'Disordered Minds' that characterised her early work but have been absent in later years. There is an overall lo-fi aesthetic to all of the recordings which helps to tie the newer and older songs together cohesively. Nothing sounds out of place, nothing sounds too conspicuously clean.
Amanda Farah

38. Shackleton –
Departing Like Rivers
(Woe To The Septic Heart)
There are elements of the many avenues that Shackleton has explored over the years on the seven pieces that make up Departing Like Rivers, his first solo album since 2012's Music For The Quiet Hour. Within the first four minutes of 13-minute opening track 'Something Tells Me / Pour Out Like Water' alone, you'll hear the thunderous bass pressure of those early Skull Disco releases on which the artist first built his name, rubbing up next to the live instrumentation and almost shamanic percussion and vocal play that has characterised much of his collaborative work in more recent years. Across a series of extended cuts, and a couple more quickfire ones too, Shackleton draws on that deeply psychedelic quality that has always tied together his work, and on Departing Like Rivers, it feels as though he's found a breathtaking sweet spot between the last decade's output and all of those groundbreaking early productions that made me fall in love with his work in the first place.
Christian Eede

37. Skee Mask –
(Ilian Tape)
Considering the hundreds of press releases that end up in my mailbox daily, most of them blatantly hyping the next big thing, in the case of Pool, it was really refreshing to just get a totally unexpected new record. The absence of a press release, an industry standard that has unfortunately come to define how most people write about music, opened up a possibility for everyone to develop their own intimate relationship with the record. (I must add this has been the case with most Ilian Tape releases.) Be sure to take 100 minutes off for this one — it's a beast of a record. You'll know what I mean when you hear the '80s hair metal solo in the track 'Harrison Ford'.
Jaša Bužinel

36. Shirley Collins –
On the surface, Shirley Collins has returned to her beginnings as a folk singer, something denied to her for much of her life, but she is now a very different singer from her younger incarnation. When she was travelling with Alan Lomax in the Appalachia and American South during 1959 collecting songs, she was the outsider bringing an anthropologist's eye to other cultures. Now, she is the culture. She has become the singer she searched for in her youth, someone soaked in the song of the place they belong to. We rarely hear the singing voices of older people on professional recordings, and Collins' voice is now reminiscent of field recordings made by early folk music collectors in pubs and farmhouses – people singing the songs they knew, the way they sang them.
Tom Bolton

35. Space Afrika –
Honest Labour
Space Afrika's debut for Dais Records is every bit as sprawling and captivating as 2020's self-released Hybtwibt?, which proved to be a breakthrough release for the Manchester duo. Across 19 cuts – many of them brief interludes of around two minutes or less – the pair build on the ambient framework of past releases, delivering what they describe as "a homage to UK energy" that channels variously the most minimal, fractured elements of Actress, Burial at his most heartbreaking, and the murky trip-hop of '90s Tricky.
Christian Eede

34. Black Country, New Road –
For The First Time
(Ninja Tune)
Just the six tracks in total, there is an air of familiarity to For The First Time. Rather than a collection of new music, Black Country, New Road have recorded the best songs from their live set into one cohesive and satisfying package. (With the notable exception of 'Track X', which has been part of Isaac Wood's solo live set as The Guest occasionally for some time.) Indeed, for the indoctrinated, this debut is low in surprises, but the songs are very sharp and done a great justice by the production. It's rare that a band this noisy, an album where chaos reigns, is recorded with this much clarity. There are so many different musical ideas, and none of them get lost along the way.
Cal Cashin

33. Kìzis –
Tidibàbide / Turn
(Tin Angel)
The last time we heard from Mich Cota she had just released her debut album, Kijà / Care. Back in 2017, that record dealt with trauma, oppression – and also love. Now she has re-emerged as Kìzis. In her Algonquin language, Kìzis means 'Sun'. This is a fitting name to perform under as her music is filled with light vocals that drift over bright melodies. Her latest album, Tidibàbide / Turn, is fearless and proud, featuring over 50 artists, including Beverly Glenn-Copeland, Mabe Fratti and Owen Pallet, spread over 36 tracks and three hours. Yes, this will be a long ride.
Nick Roseblade

32. ioulus –
Billed as both a mixtape and a debut album, ioulus' oddkin hedges its bets. If you take it as a mixtape, you needn't rationalise its quicksilver 16-minute running time and head-wrecking restlessness. See it as a fully realised set though, and it really has to be something special to justify its short stay. Still, that's the most rewarding choice. Succumbing to oddkin as a complete album lets you marvel at how much can be crammed into such a small space, a trinket box of wounded feelings and musical invention.
Matthew Horton

31. Rochelle Jordan –
Play With The Changes
(Young Art)
Play With The Changes signals a slight departure from the forward-leaning fusion R&B of the singles 'How U Want It' (2017) and 'Fill Me In' (2019), towards gleaming dancefloor anthems that celebrate life and reflect both the rich history of UK club genres and R&B mutations brought about by artists like Kelela and FKA twigs. The album, produced by KLSH, Jimmy Edgar and Machinedrum, who's been working with Rochelle Jordan since 2015, stylistically transmutates from track to track in a flawless manner. Shifting between liquid D&B, UK garage-infused R&B, shuffling breakbeats, inspired feel-good house, bedroom trap, subdued lovers rock, and so on, here you'll find some of the finest pop tunes of the year, light-years ahead of many other artists’ current hackneyed disco nostalgia. Jordan's feathery but round voice makes her part of a long lineage of R&B divas, but instead of retracing the same old paths, she bets on a fully contemporary sound.
Jaša Bužinel

30. Part Chimp –
(Wrong Speed)
This might be blasphemy, but when I hear an MBV or Dinosaur Jr. track, I don't think, "This has got to be the loudest live band in the world." I'm not sure they need to be. It's arguably an ancillary thing. The opposite is true of Part Chimp, easily one of the world's heaviest guitar squads. Pop on Drool and it's altogether likely that you'll immediately reckon something along the lines of, "I bet the sheer, unholy thunder of these knuckleheads playing in a cramped bar could explode an unlucky dove just like a 2001 Randy Johnson fastball in a spring training game against the Giants." Well, maybe you wouldn't think that, exactly, but the point is it comes through on record. It is immediately evident. You don't even need to imagine it, to suss out how their gigs might go. You just know it to be true. Would it even work otherwise?
Bernie Brooks

There is an element present in club music that goes beyond knowing and becomes about sensing, which though intuitive, appears to be interlinked with experience. HARD FEELINGS' move sure-footedly towards a philosophy of overlapping senses, which, as best articulated by Michel Serres, hinges on the mixing and mingling of bodies. "Absent, ubiquitous, omnipresent sound envelops bodies," writes Serres in his book The Five Senses. "Practically all matter, particularly flesh, vibrates and conducts sound." HARD FEELINGS' Joe Goddard and Amy Douglas here prove super-conductors channelling sound deep into the body.
Ronnie Angel Pope

28. The Transcendence Orchestra –
All Skies Have Sounded
(Editions Mego)
Anthony Child and Dan Bean's well-named The Transcendence Orchestra returns with All Skies Have Sounded, which from the first track, 'Having My Head Is Felt', on exudes a sort of trippy, oozy warmth. Indeed, that title sums up the record rather well. Apparently inspired by, or a channeling of, "Gonzen, uminari or retumbos" – mysterious sounds that come from the heavens – the record recalls Coil, Tangerine Dream and, weirdly, Brian Eno, but the interludes on the '70s 'pop' records rather than his ambient moments. There are even Stephen O'Malley-esque guitar lurges, weird subsurface watery gloops and beautiful drones. It's highly recommended for long mountain valley drives, or a summer wander with a pot of honey imbued with the magical bounty of Dartmoor's close-cropped sheep pasture for company.
Luke Turner

27. Little Simz –
Sometimes I Might Be Introvert
(Age 101)
Now four albums deep, Sometimes I Might Be Introvert sees Little Simz invite fans deeper still into her backstory. As she serves up some of her most confessional songwriting to date, frequent collaborator Inflo's production sets the rapper's acute lyricism against grand, orchestral strings and horns on singles such as 'Introvert' and 'I Love You, I Hate You'. Elsewhere, she subtly looks to Afrobeats on the Obongjayar-featuring 'Point And Kill', sets her sights on the dancefloor with 'Protect My Energy', and nods to trap-inflected grime on 'Rollin Stone', all with excellent results.
Christian Eede

26. Joy Orbison –
still slipping vol. 1
still slipping vol. 1, Joy Orbison's debut full-length effort, bounces effortlessly from one style to another, from the intricate 2-step of 'swag w/ kav' to the melancholic house of 'better'. There's a nod to '80s post-punk on 'playground', and gloriously throaty verses from James Massiah and Goya Gumbani on 'swag w/ kav' and 'playground' respectively. Rather than a bold new direction, the mixtape feels like a peek behind the curtain, turning the dancefloor monolith into somebody we can all relate to, with Mum calling up to be sweet about something she doesn't quite understand. "Yeah, yeah. there's something in it that you can latch onto," she says about his new single. "It's got, well… it's not a melody… but it's got something you can almost hum to. No, no, I really liked it."
Liam Inscoe-Jones

Alexander Tucker has innovated a novel way of processing signal on XMIT, cutting and splicing segments of speech into time-stretched non-sequiturs, a disquieting technique used to effect, for example, on Simon Fisher Turner's outing, entitled 'OCT'. 'ABII', with Astrud Steehouder, elasticises the album's most classical vocal elements, whilst orphan electrics are set to gurgle and bray in the background. Nik Void's contribution, 'ILN', is the record's most straight-ahead knees-up, an analogue, heavyweight raga built for the world's abandoned dancefloors. At its best, XMIT nods adroitly to Radiohead's woofer endangering 'Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors', and adeptly advances the wild forward/backward vocal simultaneity of 'Everything In Its Right Place'.
Ryan Alexander Diduck

24. Ben LaMar Gay –
Open Arms To Open Us
(International Anthem)
As an improviser, Ben LaMar Gay possesses a keen sense of freedom in music. But like The Art Ensemble Of Chicago of old, he understands this freedom not as a license to skronk and overindulge in excessive techniques – when heard, his cornet is subdued – but as a lightweight abandon in using whichever element he sees fit. Case in point, 'Bang Melodically Bang' flows along like a fusion of hip hop and jazz, before coalescing into an emphatic chant. 'Aunt Lola And The Quail' wobbles through a swarm of elastic sounds chased by a brass texture and frolicking flutes. Meanwhile, 'I Be Loving Me Some Of You' assembles a bricolage of Ethio-jazz from synth jitters and wonky beats.
Antonio Poscic

23. audiobooks –
Astro Tough
The second album by Evangeline Ling and David Wrench's audiobooks is decidedly more focussed than its predecessor, 2018's barmy and freewheeling Now! (in a minute), but that doesn't mean it's any less thrilling. The interplay between Ling's shapeshifting vocals – sometimes tender, sometimes terrifying – and Wrench's dynamic wonky-pop instrumentals that makes them so great has only got tighter; whereas before their music was based around the sparks that emerged when their two styles clashed against each other, Astro Tough sees everything burst in unison into flames. Throughout the record, they're still firing in a thousand different directions – grizzly dub on 'The English Manipulator', blasting melancholy synth-pop on 'First Move', gorgeously tender on 'Farmer', manic on 'Lalala It's The Good Life' – but always attacking in tandem. Each song is a vastly different part of an extremely satisfying whole, and further proof that they're two of the most forward-thinking pop artists of their generation.
Patrick Clarke

22. Eris Drew –
Quivering In Time
It's in lucid shifts between genres – dissolving, looping, spiralling between BPMs and octaves – that Quivering In Time reaches its peak. Powerful, swerving transitions have long been a fixture of Eris Drew's sets, a style that she's spent many years perfecting. In the late '90s and early 2000s, while working a corporate job and training to become a lawyer, she cultivated a taste for breaks, garage and bassline, going against the mainstream penchant for tacky house and the hegemony of smooth mixing. Quivering In Time is a testament to these pivotal years, fuelled by precious memories and past experiences. Yet the album as a whole is far from nostalgic.
Hannah Pezzack

21. Eimear Reidy & Natalia Beylis –
Whose Woods These Are
The day after I got my jab I felt a bit washed out; nothing serious, but enough to make me shrink from any, well, serious listening. This album was a salve, it got me out of bed into clothes and out of the house for a walk. Natalia Beylis picks out simple piano and organ lines, an easy fluency that caresses the resonant warmth of Eimear Reidy's cello running breathy and low. These three tracks are about trees, prompted by Robert Frost's 'Whose Woods These Are', which moved into the public domain this year. Beylis and Reidy imagine a utopia where the trees go public domain (imagining the disintegration of land ownership by proxy). There is much space to breathe here and those who crave more might be similarly settled by hearing the seasons unfurl in the monthly sessions Laura Cannell and cellist Kate Ellis are recording and releasing throughout this year.
Jennifer Lucy Allan

20. black midi –
(Rough Trade)
David Lynch likened creative ideas to fishing – you wait and when they start biting, it's showtime. Keep in the shallow waters and you’ll catch the small ones. But "down deep, the fish are more powerful and more pure. They're huge and abstract. And they're very beautiful." Creatively sincere, their instincts radically open, black midi pack a bucketful of pretty big catches on Cavalcade. The concept revolves around a series of third person narratives where each tells their oddly allegorical story in a procession. Each track is a universe of its own, doing what art should do: using its own virtual space as an experimental testing ground to try those limits of taboo and impossibility that remain limited IRL.
Danijela Bočev

19. Rắn Cạp Đuôi –
Ngủ Ngày Ngay Ngày Tận Thế
Considering its density of sound and complexity of feeling, it's a wonder that Ngủ Ngày Ngay Ngày Tận Thế is only 27 minutes long. Each musical idea lingers only as long as it needs to. RCĐ gestures at their encyclopedia these little bits of musical synecdoche: a pointillistic sweep here summoning Curtis Roads, a dembow rhythm there recalling Shabba Ranks. Like the V-2 rocket in Gravity's Rainbow, these moments serve to illustrate a greater whole: in Pynchon's case, the destructive capability of twentieth century mathematics and engineering, and for RCĐ the vast range of musical knowledge that the internet has made widely available.
James Gui

18. Arab Strap –
As Days Get Dark
(Rock Action)
There's a funny thing that happens on As Days Get Dark. Wretched misdeeds and thoughts slip more thoroughly into the third person. There's a sense of remove. Aged, the lecherous scumbags seem more pathetic than ever. They're much too old for wherever they are and whoever they're creeping, just barely louche at best. You can almost smell the flop sweat of the dude in 'I Was Once A Weak Man' as he tries to convince himself that his behaviour isn't deeply, deeply embarrassing – at minimum. Other tracks are nightmarishly parabolic. A grease-stained god of nocturnal dalliances sweeps up the nightlife in 'Here Comes Comus!'; doomed foxes seek refuge; the past haunts a train traveller in the first-person 'Sleeper'. Is it possible there are lessons to be learned here? Maybe even a little bit of wisdom?
Bernie Brooks

17. Tirzah –
There is a refreshing intimacy to Colourgrade, almost as if the recording process simply consisted of leaving a microphone in the shower and then editing out the trickling water in the background. Like the lyrics started off as simple poems on steamed-up glass. In contrast to Tirzah's distinctively candid poetics, most of the record's production, with the exception of the guitar-drums combo of 'Send Me', or the never-ending carousel vibes of 'Sink In', feels like it comes from a darker, less innocent place. Like a void encroaching on a perfect world. In 'Beating', lovers miraculously find each other in that void, and even create life. "I found you. You found me. We made life," Tirzah half-sings as static hisses and grainy loops churn like ashy stratus clouds. The generally somber sonic palette feels like a kind of liminal space where memories swirl and swim, waiting to be plucked out.
David McKenna

16. Tomaga –
Intimate Immensity
(Hands In The Dark)
When Valentina Magaletti's oblong tank drum cycles emerge from the dark to form a tuneful skeleton for 'Idioma', the opening cut of Tomaga's final release, it's a sound at once known and unknowable, evolved from 2016's The Shape Of The Dance, yet embedded with a deeper meaning in light of Tom Relleen's passing. On Intimate Immensity, the breathless reverberations of his Buchla synthesiser are just that bit more incisive than before as they saturate the sound space and grow emotional branches around echoing polyrhythms. Bass textures bubble up and wash over lurking, shy noises with newly discovered weight. An electronic pulse whistles for the first and last time.
Antonio Poscic

15. L'Rain –
(Mexican Summer)
Each song on Fatigue ​​is preceded by an interlude to piece the emotions of each cut together. The first of those interludes, 'Fly, Die' asks us, "What have you done to change?" This is the key question that the album as a whole sets out to explore: how do we change and expand ever outward? Across the record, L'Rain envisions a kind of psychic city, each dominion anchored to distinct emotions. We fly through it, amongst the buzz of city life, roads with police sirens and the resistance of air. We catch glimpses of people's interactions on the street, hear their laughs, hums, cries, claps, stories and feelings. In L'Rain's genre-subverting world, emotions do not exist in singularity.
Georgie Brooke

14. The Armed –
(Sargent House)
It's a mark of The Armed's deftness and intelligence that their fandom can remain both obsessive and inclusive at the same time, never bordering on the weaponised toxicity that has scarred 'Stan' culture elsewhere online. What elevates The Armed from the enjoyable to the essential, however, is the extraordinary strength of their art. The driving force behind all their fans' energy is music that feels genuinely vital. ULTRAPOP is an attempt to take the intensity of the hardcore music the band grew up on, and by injecting it with modern pop's forward-facing maximalism, up its energy even further still, emerging with a brand new genre from which the album takes its name. In the process, they're gleefully undercutting the hypermasculine nonsense that can sometimes dog heavier music. Sneer at their ambition if you will, but they've succeeded in that mission. ULTRAPOP is as bold, dynamic and addictive an album as you'll hear all year.
Patrick Clarke

13. Divide And Dissolve –
Gas Lit
I have an admittedly unevidenced suspicion that people are reluctant to reference other bands when describing Divide And Dissolve's music, on account of the duo's Sylvie Nehill and Takiaya Reed avoiding this. That's arguably good practise in many ways, but I do wish to emphasise that this is a really good sludge record: striking and individual, but not an unheard vanguard in sound or anything (though certainly D&D's most fully realised release to date). Reed's tone – "going deeper and deeper into the swamps," she's called it – has echoes of Steve Brooks' in Floor on 'Denial'; Burning Witch on the wretched tectonic slippage of 'It's Really Complicated'; a Godflesh-type industrial monotony on album closer 'We Are Really Worried About You', whose guitar sound is slightly cleaner than on previous songs, all things being relative.
Allan Gardner

12. Liars –
The Apple Drop
The Apple Drop boasts a rich sonic palette that brings in string arrangements, embraces the guitar in a way this band hasn’t for more than a decade, and pushes Laurence Pike's crisp, martial drumming to the front of the mix. It sounds absolutely massive. One of the many impressive things about the album is that while it joins the dots between Liars past and present, it never feels like a straight-up retread of those early records. Instead, it suggests a fascinating future for Angus Andrew and a now presumably flexible line-up of co-conspirators. It's a beautiful, weird, heartfelt and uncanny album – exactly like the nine records that preceded it and also entirely unlike them.
Will Salmon

11.Tanz Mein Herz –
(Standard In-Fi)
If you've already come across drone-folk monsters France then Tamz Mein Heinz are their slightly less monofocal cousins, with Mathieu Tilly and Jeremie Sauvage (who also runs the Standard In-Fi label) appearing in both. While France will plough a single furrow for the entirety of a release or a show (thrillingly, I should add), Tanz Mein Herz – who here also include Ernest Bergez (AKA Sourdure), Alexis Degrenier, Guilhem Lacroux, Pierre-Vincent Fortunier and Pierre Bujeau – have a more wide-open sound, while still keeping faith with the hypnotic power of repetition. Even by their previously excellent standards, Quattro is pretty monumental – the shortest track is just over seven minutes, and the longest clocks in at over 26, but what's striking isn't so much duration as the tension between savagery (of the drones and the see-sawing fiddle) and the poise of the milky guitar arpeggios, plunking bass and rumbling drums that draws you in as the grooves intensify and trails of synth start to glow like comet tails.
David McKenna

10. Gazelle Twin & NYX –
Deep England
(NYX Collective)
Listening to Gazelle Twin's Deep England is like being rocked to sleep by a werewolf dressed as a Morris dancer. Throughout her career, composer and producer Elizabeth Bernholz has demonstrated a devastating talent for burrowing under the skin and conjuring a body-horror dread. There is, in her fantastical and luxuriantly creepy soundscapes, something of a fairytale gone horribly amiss. She shapes her music into especially distressing contours on this companion piece to 2018's Pastoral, recorded with six-piece all-female electronic drone choir NYX and originally debuted in 2019 as a live performance project. The subject, as it often is for Bernholz, is England and the ancient darkness stirring beneath the topsoil of the present day.

Deep England takes its name from a strain of identity diagnosed by academic Patrick Wright as "this deep-frozen English nationalism." It unfolds like chapters in a bedtime story that’s taken a plunge into the uncanny, as Bernholz deploys a shifting palette of wind instruments, textured shrieks, horror-movie FX, and lurching techno. Chiming church bells usher in opening track 'Glory', which quickly whips itself into a terrible rhapsody of female voices, like the ghosts of England's unresolved sense of self swirling through all at once.
Ed Power

9. Sleaford Mods –
Spare Ribs
(Rough Trade)
When else in history have the purportedly censored sounded so unbearably loud? Political correctness – that fusty old Enlightenment idea of making an effort to treat people fairly and equally – is castigated as the worst possible tyranny imaginable. Any act of human kindness, however great or small, is dismissed immediately as "virtual signalling." Not even Marcus Rashford can save us now.

This is the sorry state into which Sleaford Mods' latest album announces itself like a punch in the belly from a stubbly stranger outside the small Sainsbury's. Recorded quickly under lockdown, the music feels urgent in an almost skeletal way. The very bass lines themselves groan and sigh with both exasperation and aggression. Crucially, they still contain just enough swing to get the old hips swaying from side to side. The beats are harsh, icy and precise, with extra electronic embellishments used slyly and sparingly. There are barnstorming guest performances too, from Billy Nomates and Amy Taylor from Amyl & The Sniffers. As for Jason Williamson's always engrossing lyrics, there is little point in quoting any of these gems directly. They might look great on paper but they have to be heard first-hand to be properly enjoyed and absorbed. A large part of the pleasure of hearing any Sleaford Mods album is in the sheer accumulation of Williamson's poetic dismay, as well as the perfect positioning of a particularly cathartic rant or foamy mouthed slur.
JR Moores

8. Scotch Rolex –
(Hakuna Kulala)
All five of the guests on Tewari, as well as DJ Scotch Egg himself, are uncompromising artists, yet in very different ways; Lord Spikeheart's sprawling screams, MC Yallah's punchy staccato bars, and Swordman Kitala's ferocious dancehall flow all mine the same depths of intensity, albeit through different routes. The album that came out of their sessions at the Nyege Nyege villa, Tewari, is a record that embraces that shared penchant for extremity.

On 'Omuzira' and 'Juice', Ishihara creates a thick, heavy, but somehow spacious beat that’s tailor-made for Yallah's terse flow, and on 'Nfulula Biswa' provides Swordman Kitala with a pummelling, industrial dub track redolent of Kevin Martin at his finest. It's the three tracks with Lord Spikeheart that are most uncompromising of all – Ishihura's fiery beats merge with Khanja's merciless grindcore screams to create something so oppressive and claustrophobic that it becomes thrilling, like a headrush after being starved of oxygen.
Patrick Clarke

7. Richard Dawson & Circle –
Combined, the supergroup of Richard Dawson and Circle eggs each other on into increasingly fantastical territory. The songs are all themed, however loosely, around plants, via ghosts and perishing fungal spores. But they're also about humans trying to make-do in worlds that never fail to be hostile. Wading through mythological terror and Day Of The Triffids-esque horticultural horror, the characters of Henki always seem doomed to spend their days feeling lodged in a Sisyphean nightmare.

On 'Ivy', it's a "poacher of men" seeing his son swallowed by malignant vines. The eight-minute narrative spirals out like a horticultural Moby Dick, turning into a full metal gallop as the protagonists' lives slip further into violent tragedy, one of them eventually "torn limb from limb by his own mother." This strange epic mixes mythologies: a touch turning everything to stone here, a ride into the underworld with a panther there. The narrative takes some unpacking to find coherence, but the sense of desperation is always palpable.
Daryl Worthington

6. Loraine James –
Like Loraine James' last album, Reflection is dizzying in scope. She re-imagines classic elements of dance and club music with drill, R&B, grime, dub, electro and trap. Drill and R&B feel more predominant here than the other genres this time round, something James herself feels has seeped more into her work after a time spent listening to both forms throughout the early part of 2020. Her last album, whilst not overtly political, explored what it was like to be a queer, Black woman from a working-class background in a rapidly disappearing area of London. Here, there's more of that too but with a greater urgency and boldness, like on 'Simple Stuff' and album centre pieces, 'Insecure Behaviour And Fuckery' (which features Nova) and 'Black Ting' (made with frequent collaborator Le3 bLACK).

With Nova, for instance, James explores the objectification of women in the #MeToo era. "Just hold my hand when we drive off the cliff / Bold to see justice it's just a myth" feels like a Thelma and Louise-like nod to female friendship and empowerment in a world where gender equality is still a world away. "Smacked on the butt since birth / and during the pregnancy," Nova raps over this urgent plea for respect, sung over a techno beat and a clever Drexciyan chord progression. James' adept mono auto-tuning of Nova makes the message sound both confrontational and weary: it's a demand for equality but one with a long sigh wondering why women are still asking the same questions.
Elizabeth Aubrey

5. William Doyle –
Great Spans Of Muddy Time
(Tough Love)
2019's Your Wilderness Revisited relayed a kind of outward inspection that included lyrics like "I went for a walk" or "I felt it cement my place in it all." Doyle refigures this into an emotional introspection on Great Spans Of Muddy Time. Whereas Your Wilderness Revisited is focused around outside frameworks like architecture, suburbia, and parks, a song such as 'Who Cares', with its mantra-like repetition of 'who cares what they say?', is like an emotional rewilding that rings out within an immersive, almost claustrophobic bed of glittering electronics. Doyle's voice sounds clear and true, with the sentiment arriving at an almost elemental emotional state: an absence of care. This song is like a 21st century mechanical music reimagining of Lesley Gore's 'You Don't Own Me' or 'It's My Party'.

Although 1960s girl groups don't immediately spring to mind when listening to William Doyle, there's something about the emotional honesty of some of the lyrics and singing on Great Spans Of Muddy Time that recalls how groups like The Ronettes, The Girlfriends, or The Crystals could sing songs wreathed in uncertainty and doubt, using plain language in a heartfelt, direct delivery. In the stunning lead single, the compact, kaleidoscopic pop symphony of 'And Everything Changed (But I Feel Alright)', the passionate repetition of the line 'I feel alright I believe' in the chorus suggests a narrator trying to convince him or herself of something; the word 'believe' can imply both conviction and faith/uncertainty.
Will Ainsley

4. The Weather Station –
Fat Possum)
Having immersed herself in the calamities of the climate crisis, Tamara Lindeman uses that as an anchoring theme on Ignorance for ten pensively and poetically painted narratives. Here, no stone is left unturned in the Toronto-born songwriter's deft ruminations on her relationship with the wider world and her place within it.

Opening with 'Robber', the record's most intricately layered and intriguing arrangement, Lindeman expresses fatigue with capitalist-induced corruption. On our first taste of the sumptuous expansion of The Weather Station's sound – now featuring two drummers, brass, strings, and synths – the sonic ambition on display is immediately arresting. Crawling like a cloud swollen with rain, the arrangement bears the weightiness of an imminent storm that will culminate in a thundering crash of cymbals. Its propulsive beat provides a steady base for the sinisterly intoned textures; sweeping strings and a slinky sax part reminiscent of Bowie's Blackstar (an influence which remains intact on 'Atlantic'). The song is a hallmark of the maturation in The Weather Station's previously more folk-leaning compositions.
Zara Hedderman

3. Dean Blunt –
Black Metal 2
(Rough Trade)
In contrast with its predecessor, Black Metal 2 is anti-dynamism. There's far less formal fuckery. It's a headstate record, all gully no peak, with swells of intensity that then ebb away. You'll find nothing like the brash shoegaze of 'Heavy', an avalanche of crystal chimes and debris. What's it sound like then? Well, it sounds a fair bit like some other songs on 2014's Black Metal, that same blurring of samples and instrumentation. A track like '100', which was road music for the A107, blissed out indie with a current of Hackney dread.

"Here we are, back on the guitar," sings Blunt on 'SEMTEX', while 'VIGIL' has the same midi strings that gave The Redeemer its shoddy grandeur, and sees the return of long-time collaborator Joanne Robertson, contributing guitar twangs and vocals. There's a potent presence of Mazzy Star, the dubby dream world of AR Kane, also Felt and The Pastels – the socially acceptable alternative to C-86 type jangle. They'll even steer dangerously close to emblems of US slackerdom, Kurt Vile and the like. A well known tradition in all these kinds of music is the hiding of depression behind jaunty tunes, but on Black Metal 2's 'DASH SNOW', Blunt sounds properly dejected over the summery instrumental. It's tears and shit cocktails on a grotty garden patio. All aftermath, contemplation.
Eden Tizard

2. aya –
im hole
On aya's debut album for Hyperdub, vocals represent a flexible musical tool. Through her poetry, she conveys concrete images and succulent metaphors ("burned by the yearn I roll a rock frontside"), and by using electrifying vocal modulations, she provokes various effects, both alienating and sublime. I experience her extended cyborgian voice as the kind of shiver-inducing vocal psychedelia Kit Mackintosh describes in his recent book Neon Screams. It has a post-humanist dimension as if produced through a robotic larynx with prosthetic vocal cords (the track title 'OoB Prosthesis' – short for 'out of body' – points in this direction). But it is also about phonetics, inflections, rhymes, wordplay and alliterations ("A sharp scratch and we start with the scalp"). Her language is full of unexpected turns.

Listening to vocal tracks, like the sombre earworm 'what if i should fall asleep and slipp under', or self-described ASMR drill of 'Emley lights us moor', my mind constantly shifts focus. There are the vapour trails left by the voice(s), perpetually varying in pitch, depth and texture, like those DeepDream videos, and the multidimensional productions floating in the background – HD sonic tapestries interwoven with crumbs of sound, subtle nuances of timbre, and dramatic synth pyrotechnics that feel out of joint. A true sonic contortionist, aya is always looking for new ways to squeeze sound into unknown forms.
Jaša Bužinel

1. The Bug –
(Ninja Tune)
Looking back on The Bug's fourth album, 2014's Angels & Devils, it was almost as if the Banner and Hulk dichotomies were jostling for prominence. On the LP's earlier and mellower tracks, the Banner superego tried its best to hold onto the reins, luring listeners into a false sense of security, before later cuts like 'The One', 'Fuck A Bitch' and 'Fuck You' let the wrecking ball loose. With Fire, that irrepressible Hulkness, pent-up over lockdown and eager to return from hermitic isolation to red-lit rooms full of sweating, dancing and juddering bodies, is back to wreak full sonic mayhem again. The ideal live show, Martin says, should "alter your DNA, or scar you for life in a good way." The material offered here is guaranteed to succeed.

In many ways it feels like a more direct sequel to 2008's London Zoo, described by at least one critic in unintentional Hulk-ian terms as "tense," "angry" and "ferocious, but always triumphant," adding that it "threatens to bust out your windows and rip holes in your speakers." Fire's ingredients are similar to those of London Zoo, but all the measurements have somehow been upped. The mutant basslines are deeper than a humpback anglerfish, and almost as ugly. The tracks are packed with apocalyptic rumbles, industrial clankery and sepulchral beats, decorated with inner-city sirens and other smog-ridden reverberations.

Martin has stopped overthinking things, he has said, going with his instincts instead. By relaxing his self-confessed "maniacal control," he's letting the music breathe for itself and teem out more naturally. The Hulk is on the loose.
JR Moores

The Quietus Albums Of The Year So Far 2021

  • 1: The Bug – Fire
  • 2: aya – im hole
  • 3: Dean Blunt – Black Metal 2
  • 4: The Weather Station – Ignorance
  • 5: William Doyle – Great Spans Of Muddy Time
  • 6: Loraine James – Reflection
  • 7: Richard Dawson & Circle – Henki
  • 8: Scotch Rolex – Tewari
  • 9: Sleaford Mods – Spare Ribs
  • 10: Gazelle Twin & NYX – Deep England
  • 11: Tanz Mein Herz – Quattro
  • 12: Liars – The Apple Drop
  • 13: Divide And Dissolve – Gas Lit
  • 14: The Armed – ULTRAPOP
  • 15: L'Rain – Fatigue
  • 16: Tomaga – Intimate Immensity
  • 17: Tirzah – Colourgrade
  • 18: Arab Strap – As Days Get Dark
  • 19: Rắn Cạp Đuôi – Ngủ Ngày Ngay Ngày Tận Thế
  • 20: black midi – Cavalcade
  • 21: Natalia Beylis & Eimear Reidy – Whose Woods These Are
  • 22: Eris Drew – Quivering In Time
  • 23: audiobooks – Astro Tough
  • 24: Ben LaMar Gay – Open Arms To Open Us
  • 26: Joy Orbison – still slipping vol. 1
  • 27: Little Simz – Sometimes I Might Be Introvert
  • 28: The Transcendence Orchestra – All Skies Have Sounded
  • 30: Part Chimp – Drool
  • 31: Rochelle Jordan – Play With The Changes
  • 32: ioulus – oddkin
  • 33: Kìzis – Tidibàbide / Turn
  • 34: Black Country, New Road – For The First Time
  • 35: Space Afrika – Honest Labour
  • 36: Shirley Collins – Crowlink
  • 37: Skee Mask – Pool
  • 38: Shackleton – Departing Like Rivers
  • 39: Grouper – Shade
  • 40: Ed Dowie – The Obvious I
  • 41: Dry Cleaning – New Long Leg
  • 42: ---__--___ ‎– The Heart Pumps Kool-Aid
  • 43: Godspeed You! Black Emperor – G_d's Pee At STATE'S END!
  • 44: Erika de Casier – Sensational
  • 45: Hawthonn – Earth Mirror
  • 46: Rufus Isabel Elliot – A/am/ams (come ashore, turn over)
  • 47: Japanese Breakfast – Jubilee
  • 48: Ruth Goller – Skylla
  • 49: Succumb – XXI
  • 50: Melvins – Working With God
  • 51: Frog Of Earth – Frog Of Earth
  • 52: Oliver Leith – 'Me Hollywood'
  • 53: Andy Stott – Never The Right Time
  • 54: Goodbye World – At Death's Door
  • 55: Slikback – MELT
  • 56: Max Syedtollan / Plus-Minus Ensemble – Four Assignments
  • 57: Time Binding Ensemble – Nothing New Under The Sun
  • 58: William Parker – Mayan Space Station
  • 60: Årabrot – Norwegian Gothic
  • 61: Sylvie Courvoisier & Mary Halvorson – Searching For The Disappeared Hour
  • 62: Manic Street Preachers – The Ultra Vivid Lament
  • 63: Claire Rousay – a softer focus
  • 64: Helm – Axis
  • 65: Clairo – Sling
  • 66: Aging ~ Land Trance – Embassy Nocturnes
  • 67: Rien Virgule – La Consolation Des Violettes
  • 68: Jane Weaver – Flock
  • 69: Jeff Parker – Forfolks
  • 70: Vapour Theories – Celestial Scuzz
  • 71: At The Gates – The Nightmare Of Being
  • 72: GNOD – La Mort Du Sens
  • 73: Ursula Sereghy – OK Box
  • 74: Bloody Head – The Temple Pillars Dissolve Into The Clouds
  • 75: Jorja Chalmers – Midnight Train
  • 76: Leather Rats – No Live 'Til Leather '98
  • 77: Koreless – Agor
  • 78: Snapped Ankles – Forest Of Your Problems
  • 79: Hedvig Mollestad – Tempest Revisited
  • 80: Richard Youngs – CXXI
  • 81: Squid – Bright Green Field
  • 82: Mirage – Mirage
  • 83: Laura Cannell & Kate Ellis – May Sounds
  • 84: My Bloody Sex Party – Vol. 2
  • 85: Taqbir – Victory Belongs To Those Who Fight For A Right Cause
  • 86: The Altered Hours – Convertible
  • 87: Perkins & Federwisch – One Dazzling Moment
  • 88: Converge & Chelsea Wolfe – Bloodmoon: I
  • 89: Fluisteraars – Gegrepen Door De Geest Der Zielsontluiking
  • 90: Angharad Davies – gwneud a gwneud eto / Do And Do Again
  • 91: Vanishing Twin – Ookii Gekkou
  • 92: Antonina Nowacka – Vocal Sketches From Oaxaca
  • 93: Turnstile – GLOW ON
  • 94: Mdou Moctar – Afrique Victime
  • 95: Senyawa – Alkisah
  • 96: Ruth Mascelli – A Night At The Baths
  • 97: LoneLady – Former Things
  • 98: Low – HEY WHAT
  • 99: Marco Shuttle – Cobalt Desert Oasis
  • 100: Celestial – I Had Too Much To Dream Last Night