Hello good people of Sputnik. I have decided it into four sections for your convenience, but you aren't going to read this description so I will explain elsewhere
WORTH THE HYPE
These are the albums that literally everyone has heard by now that I feel are worth the hype.
Go back and enjoy them again!
They are *not* ranked.
As Days Get Dark
Easily my favourite indie album of 2021 far, Aidan Moffat's vocal tone is spoken word perfection and melodious where appropriate. The album is mainly about sordid storytelling, but the arrangements are very sensitively constructive, with plenty of memorable guitar lines and chord changes to accent many a change of pace where appropriate. Marvellous stuff.
Click that artwork and read anat's stunner of a review, even if you have no intention of listening. Remarkable prose from start to finish.
|3||Cult of Luna|
The Raging River
Cult of Luna are one of the best bands out there right now, and this long EP is very much up to their calibre. I was a little suspicious at first of how overly faithful the first two tracks are to the band's formula (something their last full-length also suffered from), but with one of their top sluggers in "I Remember" and a potential career highlight in the punishingly dark "Wave After Wave", there's enough here to tide anyone over. Great stuff, as per.
Click the art for my full review.
In a similar fashion to 100 gecs, this has been a litmus test for Sputnik's sense of humour and the results were delightfully predictable. Hilarity aside, Lil Mariko's *official debut* packs in 16 minutes of megafun bangers and boosts her novelty quotient with a gleefully profane trap shitpost ("Hi, I'm A Slut") and the pegging anthem the world has been eagerly anticipating for goodness knows how long now ("Catboys"). I am glad it was out this year, because "Shiny" is now SOTY for both 2020 and 2021. Hooray.
Click art = my rev 
|5||Nick Cave and Warren Ellis|
Oh goodness, the review for this was such an effort that I never want to write on it again. Nick Cave's latest is as moving and thoughtful and occasionally disarming as anything he's written from Skeleton Tree onwards; the emotional sincerity of these songs will go a long way for anyone with a shred of good faith, and Warren Ellis' arrangements tone up the drama to great effect. Potential AOTY placeholder.
|6||Psychedelic Porn Crumpets|
Shyga! The Sunlight Mound
This one's a colourful box of firecrackers - there's a couple of changes of pace, but for the most part it's a barrage of high-energy psych rock bangers that make me grin like a salamander and never overstay their welcome. I haven't spent as much time with it as I'd like because I've found it takes a lighter, frothier mood than I'm normally prepared to channel, but there's no reason this should be an impediment for you too!
Asleep did a lovely number on this one; hop on it.
This one is going to take a lot of time to sink in, particularly as it's my first meaningful Xiu Xiu album (skimmed through Knife Play, Forget and Girlfruit Basket before, but this was very superficial). I think I like this quite a bit; it's haunting and stirring and dramatic and hushed in (probably) quite a cogent way, feeling much more unified than I was expected. "Fuzz Gong Fight" is a particular stunner, but I've been impressed by different moments every time across my 3.5 playthroughs. I like how, contrary to most of my blurry Xiu Xiu memories, the experimental choices apply more to specific details and vocal stylisations than to the album's overall palette - it's quite an accessible warping of post-punk and chamber pop to that end, but the tone and richness of details is giving me a lot to chew over. Fingers crossed it'll stick.
porc's review is easily one of the year's finest. Obligatory stuff.
WHERE IS THE HYPE
There are best albums I've heard that not enough of you have checked!
Change your ways!! Do this!
These *are* ranked
Post-industrial art pop knockout from Elizabeth Colour Wheel's frontwoman. Haunting as hell Chinese folk melodies, desolate industrial soundscapes, jarring glitch and electroacoustic fuckages, and propulsive beats across the board. It's 'experimental' but very clear in its vision and succinct as a statement - quite direct and accessible to that end. Check it!
2020 was an absolutely overwhelming showcase of pop knockouts, and while 2021 isn't anything close so far, Kayoko Yoshizawa's latest has hopefully set the ball rolling. This is comfortably my pop AOTY so far, perhaps a little top-heavy but such a breathless, tastefully eclectic whirl of catchiness and wholesome whimsy that I'm not too phased. The production is a J-pop masterclass, her gorgeous cutesy delivery is at its finest and this is very nearly her best yet overall. Check it!
The *other* pop highlight of the year is shorter, slicker and more fiercely contemporary. Is Lexie Liu the future of Mandopop? I have no idea, but her appropriation of retrosynth and RnB sounds feels like it's headed somewhere with a vengeance. Gone Gold has hooks for days and is an enduring good time. Check it!
To See the Next Part of the Dream
I'm not sure if Parannoul still count as under-the-radar; I feel the off-Sput hype has more or less arrived here by this point. Whatever. This is an hour of one depressed human sinking loud as hell bedroom gaze mope-outs into a gloriously amateur emotional stew. It's a long haul and a little overwhelming, but definitely worth a once-through if you haven't already.
I haven't heard anything at all from IDM megamind Bisk since Strange Or Funny Ha-Ha? back in 1997 - my expectations were loose for this, and it wound up being a pretty good time. Strange Or Funny had quite a robust rhythmic core to it, similar to Amon Tobin - this is way off on the bleep-bloop and of things, Flying Lotus with less of a centre of gravity. It's scatty but succinct (think it runs at around half an hour maybe?), worthwhile IDM with some jazz and glitch inflections for days.
|14||Buke and Gase and So Percussion|
A Record Of...
Buke and Gase's first two albums are indie masterclasses, equal parts infectious hooks and forward thinking tones and instrumentation. Their third was a real traipse, and so I was curious to hear where they'd go with this collab. It's pretty great, easily the most pared-back thing they've done with their sound but apparently a fresh breath of inspiration as such. It's sparse, it's cryptic, and it plays with ambience in a decidedly experimental-indie way that isn't entirely to my tastes but is well-crafted enough to make up for it.
Good ol' no-nonsense hardcore stormers from some grotty studio in Korea. It's one-note, but the energy is all there and it's short enough not to overstay its welcome. Obligatory for punkheads.
These were albums that I enjoyed but thought were either rightly greeted with unhyperbolic reception or were overrated by site consensus. We're talking 3.5s to 3s here.
No-one needs to read more about most of these, so I will make observations and musings of things that happened in my Q1. I hope you enjoy them.
Imperative Imperceptible Impulse
So I've now been in Japan for a year. This is exciting and depressing, because it's been a slightly boring year for Covid reasons and I haven't travelled or partied or done dumb shit as much as I'd have liked, but at the same time I'm incredibly grateful for how much I *have* been able to do here compared to the West. Vaccinations aren't really happening yet, but our social distancing is pretty minimal so I guess hooray?
Collections from the Whiteout
Not sure if I'll stay here for more than another year; I enjoy my job, but it's not a keeper and I have pretty firm reservations about settling down and trying to pursue a career or start a family here when I'd have far a far easier time of both back home. I guess my mid-term goal is to get my Japanese up to a sufficient level that I can put it to meaningful use when I get home. Trying to find the motivation to hit up the JLPT N2 in July (with a more realistic chance of passing in December); we'll see how that goes.
|19||Black Country, New Road|
For the first time
I've spent far too much time online over the last two years; in terms of sheer hours, I think last year was a slight improvement, but since for obvious reasons I don't have as much English-lang interaction as I used to, I'm starting to worry about how all them layers or sarcasm, irony and indirect referencing are starting to stack up. Some form of detox may be on the cards some time.
Moving into a new apartment in a week, so hey, that's exciting. My current kitchen is a shittier alcove with two convection hobs that don't make you want to cook anything ever. The new one's got a more spacious surface, with gas hobs, a grill and a proper sink - looking forward to cooking properly on the reg again.
FLOWERS for VASES / descansos
I really miss playing electric guitar. Been on acoustic for far too long here, and while I've ended up learning a lot about fingerpicking more ambitiously, there's nothing quite liked amped-up shred :[
Nice to see the Staff and Contrib tiers so active after the last promotion cycle - the grouppressure is real, I wrote something like 8 reviews this month and still feel I'm behind
Antlers in Velvet
Going to a real life musicshow for the first time in over a year tomorrow! Overpriced as all fuck, but so so excited!!
In Quiet Moments
I'll be teaching the same 2 yr groups of kids (450ish) for the second year in a row from April - kinda excited and curious to see how they turn out, who has which character progression, what their new class groups are like etc.. Also a new year, whose English will likely be dire. Exciting.
As the Love Continues
Vaguely miss the UK. Especially Sainsbury's cheapo baguette and taste the difference chipolatas. What a combo.
Wish I had a cat and that it loved me a little bit.
Been replaying Dark Souls 2 for the first time in a long while - shocked at how well it holds up. Having had the space to see it as its own game and not as the true sequel to DS1 that DS3 wound up as, it's an excellent RPG. Separate thread needed
Should get back to writing music at some point. Got loads of guitar compositions, but turning those into electronic arrangements is an effort and a half hmmm.
Green to Gold
Wanna listen to more drone metal this year. Gonna explore Nadja's discog and then branch out.
Similar story for og indietronica and glitch pop. Haven't quite exhausted that vein yet.
Been making exercise more of a priority over the last couple of months and feeling pretty good for it. Excited to keep that up.
These are all underwhelming to bad albums and you should avoid them! You have been warned.
|33||A Day to Remember|
The notoriety is well-earned
|34||Anneke van Giersbergen|
The Darkest Skies Are The Brightest
Probably the best album in this section, but hot damn Anneke's acoustic songwriting and lyricism is not a pretty sight here.
Best and worst album of the year 
Vaguely fun gamerjank, craftful but cringe
Illusions of Control
Catatonically dull '80s rehash dream pop
|38||God Is an Astronaut|
Ghost Tapes #10
Washed-up post-rock / weak riffs
|39||King Gizzard and The Lizard Wizard|
Ultrapredictable vocal-guitar unison psych hangover. Great bookends!
Insufferable EXPERImetal swamp jank. Radiation dungeon fetish.
|41||Lana Del Rey|
Chemtrails Over The Country Club
I lay down my life for you
Imagine taking the worst parts of emo and pasting them over meek Moonlight Sonata worship. Pish
The Future Bites
Sexiest new pop star since Alanis Morissette
All speed no grit
The Final Cut
- March and the final week of February were fantastic, everything beforehand was pretty weak.
- Not really sure what shape this year is heading towards, but I hope it tends away from lockdowncore soon.
- There were quite a few lower profile albums I checked and didn't include here that came from bands capable of highlight records. Hope to see less of this and more from emerging talent as we go forward. The pressure's on you, Godspeed and St Vincent!
Stay safe and keep jamming I guess?