Maybe it’s a little early to start wrapping up the year and talking about my favorites for 2021. I’m a little in denial that we are already in mid-November. But I know the time is going to rush by me as I prepare for the holidays, and I already know that this list isn’t going to change in that time.
2021 has been… a year. I’ve spent most of it struggling with my health and trying to fit everything else in between when I have “good days.” Sometimes my migraines were so bad that I couldn’t listen to anything but very soft rain sounds. But when I could, listening to music is something that sustains me and gives me life. I enjoy making playlists for all kinds of moods and occasions. There were also three major album releases that have been big highlights for me this year. So here they are in chronological order.
Blue Weekend by Wolf Alice
Every time Wolf Alice releases a new album, it feels like they’ve reinvented themselves into a new genre. There are still folk elements in songs like “Safe from Heartbreak (If You Never Fall in Love)”, and punk beats like “Smile” and “Play the Greatest Hits,” but they’ve also experimented with new styles. It starts off slow with “The Beach”, which borrows its opening lines from Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Then it builds into rock songs like “Delicious Things” about the dangerous glamour of Hollywood, there are heavy New Wave influences in “How Can I Make It Okay?”, and an electronica-heavy ode to female masturbation in “Feeling Myself.” Each track offers something new and different.
This album came out when I was in the middle of writing The Daring Witch, and the beach vibes especially fit with the Santa Cruz setting. I played this album over and over while I was wrestling with the ending of the series.
Tales From Six Feet Under by Charlotte Wessels
I’ve been a longtime fan of the metal band Delain, ever since they were founded by the former keyboardist from another favorite band of mine, Within Temptation. I was devastated by the news that they chose to break up this year. But I am also grateful that the artists are free to pursue other musical projects, and Charlotte Wessels’s solo work has been a breath of fresh air.
Every month, Charlotte releases a new song on her Patreon. She writes it, sings, records all the instruments, and produces them by herself from her home studio. She started the Patreon during 2020 quarantine while Delain was just on a break and she’s expanded since then.
The album collects 10 songs from her monthly Patreon releases. They’re not really a cohesive album that sticks to one genre or theme, but every one of them is so much fun. She goes from inspirational tracks like “Soft Revolution” and “Superhuman,” to beautiful piano pieces that take inspiration from artists like Bjork and Tori Amos in “Victor.” Her metal roots are showing in ass-kicking songs like “F.S.U. (2020)” and “Source of the Flame.” But weirdly, I even liked the 2000s synth pop in “Masterpiece” and her cover of that 80s vampire movie classic, “Cry Little Sister.”
Ocean to Ocean by Tori Amos
Tori’s first full album in four years! She released an EP of four Christmas tracks in 2020, but this is what I’ve been waiting and wishing and hoping for. It came out two days before Halloween, and even though I was in the middle of trick or treat prep, I sat down for an hour and listened to the whole thing with my partner. Since then, I’ve had it on a near-endless loop and I will spend much more time listening until every song is memorized and the words are tattooed on my heart.
I have a hard time being objective when it comes to anything by Tori, and I can’t pick favorites easily. This album is so emotional that it’s hard to explain what is the experience of listening to it. So I’m just gonna say, if you haven’t heard it yet, go now. Even if you’re one of those “Tori hasn’t done anything REAL since Pele” purists.
There are a couple of other new albums and singles I’ve listened to this year, but these are my top 3. I’m so glad that artists have found a way to keep creating new content despite the pandemic and so many other difficulties. I know it hasn’t been easy for me, and I’m lucky that I don’t need to be in a studio with several other musicians and recording technicians in order to create my art.
What were your favorite albums in 2021?