There were so many albums that came out in 2021 that deserve the highest of accolades. As we close in on another long year of uncertainty, frustration, and challenges, I’m reminded with the following list of the joy I spent as well. Music has always been a refuge to me, and this year it has been even more important than ever.
I’m typing this as I sit with my family in a hotel room, displaced by a tornado that ravaged my home as we huddled in the first floor coat closet. We don’t know when, or if, we’ll get back to our house. We’re alive, and that’s clearly what’s most important, but that’s an incredibly scary feeling: not knowing what comes next. I imagine that outside of my specific predicament, I’m not the only one who feels that way—certainly not with the events of the last two years and the bleak reality of what is to come.
I bring this up not for pity or to somehow say my situation is more fraught than others’, nor to draw too much attention to negative thoughts in general, but merely as a way to draw emphasis to the power of music; it has the ability like almost no other medium to transport the listener to another place—to provide a release valve, an escape hatch, or any other of the various analogies of which one can think for escaping whatever ails us.
This year, these albums allowed me to escape on an almost daily basis. I treasure them, and am grateful to their creators for the care and commitment they have displayed with each of these releases. Thank you, happy holidays, and let’s all continue to remember what really matters most.
Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders & The London Symphony Orchestra
A jazz great and bourgeoning genius, and a masterclass in pacing, touch, and collaboration.
Ffion – Unfurling
Sweeping, soaring, epic movements that will take you to the clouds and back. Pure brilliance.
Near Stoic – Notebook (Thoughts & Short Stories)
Dark and dreamy, muddled and mysterious. Like a memory of past, sleepless nights, passed through lake water.
Warrington-Runcorn New Town Development Plan – People & Industry
Atmospheric, industrial, and smooth. Insanely cohesive from front to back, and a top-notch example of brilliant synthesis.
Proto Droids – Sequential Dreams
Warped tape, vintage synths, and an homage to 80s horror film nostalgia. An absolute joy to listen to for those with love for any of those things.
Rupert Lally – Beyond the Night
The perfect blend of jazz and synthwave. Two excellent tracks that are a wonderful addition to any night spent sipping bourbon.
BUNKR – Graveyard Orbit
A dazzling, tone-rich journey that captures the moments when life ends and the story just begins.
Salvatore Mercatante – Tre Sfere
Head-bobbing, beat-driven techno that will inspire listeners to move as much as it encourages them to chill.
Nigel Mullaney – The Navigator
Intensely deep, varied, dark ambient from a long-time producer just beginning to stretch his legs into the recording artist field.
Negative Response – Submersion Therapy
Extremely listenable cold wave that embraces its punk-rock, simplistic roots and varied themes of alienation, uncertainty, and fear.
Correlations – Rewind the Exit Tape
Pure ear candy. Neil Hale delivers over and over again, and this is one of his very best.
Dohnavùr – The Flow Across the Borders
A splendid blending of the range of modular synthesis with the danceability of techo and electronica.
Dressel Amorosi – Deathmetha
An heir-apparent to Goblin, whose intensity is heightened by excellent synth work and incredible, chugging basslines.
Wojciech Golczewski – MonoLogs
Highly catchy synthwave from a master at interweaving pop sensibility with technical skill.
Steve Moore – Analog Sensitivity
A fantastic example of analog catalog music by the excellent Zombi synthesist.
Curved Light – A User’s Guide to Existence
Shimmering analog synthesis that aims to distract from the stress from the outside world and offer a path toward healing.
Apta – Echoes
Equal parts Ashra and Michael Rother, with an incredible ear for modular synthesis. Calming, bright, and optimistic.
The Voice of Saturn – Gratitude
A beautiful exercise in pacing and allowing songs to expand and contract. This album’s turns feel natural, even when they come from nowhere.
Various Artists – Tone Science Module No. 5, Integers and Quotients
Ian Boddy knows how to put a mixtape together. There are so many great pieces on here by amazing artists.
Polypores – Crystal Shop
Mr. Buckley is at it again, crafting complex burbles and bleeps into a wonderful tapestry of some of the best modular sound out there.
Rival Consoles – Overflow
Deep, dark, intense, and full-bodied sound design. “Monster” is absolutely massive, menacing, and bold.
Blanck Mass – In Ferneaux
Another maximalist stunner from Benjamin John Power. Layers and layers and layers. If you like deep diving into a wall of synths, this is for you.
Hoavi – Music for Six Rooms
Beautiful, thick, rich ambient compositions.
Repeated Viewing – The Family
Hauntology/horror music you can listen to year-round. And I do.
Martyn Stonehouse – CLARA
Amazing science-fiction music. Full of thematic callbacks to classic sci-fi film.
Pauline Anna Strom – Angel Tears in Sunlight
Strom’s final album, released just after she passed. True to self, this is filled with beautiful, angelic-like ambient music, meant to take the listener to another plain of existence. She will be sorely missed.