If the last month is any is any indication of 2021 as a music year, we’re in for good times. My favorites this month were split between very new bands who’ve only made an album or two, and established artists I’ve loved for decades — not much in between. There’s a pretty good international spread here, with at least 8 countries represented.
I’ve also made a playlist of some of my favorite songs from January.
Shame, Drunk Tank Pink
South London’s Shame deliver one of the highlights of the post-punk revival to date. Even more invigorating and more urgent, but simultaneously more sophisticated than their debut, their full-throttle attack is only sharpened by the advanced rhythms and song structures they utilize here. Highlights: “Nigel Hitter,” “March Day,” “Snow Day”
Pom Poko, Cheater
The sophomore album of Norway’s Pom Poko offers a singular and arresting blend of colorful power pop (thanks to Ragnhild Jamtveit and her exquisite vocal melodies) and heavy art rock — some math-rock, some noise, some post-punk — with intense and intricate guitar work. Highlights: “Like A Lady,” “Look,” “Body Level”
Ani DiFranco, Revolutionary Love
Mostly a bluesy, jazzy, funky and conga-heavy affair, but with a distinct folk block in the 2nd half, my all-time favorite singer/songwriter’s 20th album visits dark corners and suggests a radically engaged, loving response, on an album in which the personal and the political are one. Highlights: “Revolutionary Love,” “Simultaneously,” “Crocus”
Weezer, OK Human
Weezer and chamber pop turn out to be a match made in heaven. Almost all the guitar work is replaced by orchestral strings and piano, and it opens them up beyond rock audiences without pandering to Top 40 aesthetics. Highlights: “All My Favorite Songs,” “Numbers,” “Dead Roses”
KRS-One, Between Da Protests (released 12/21/20)
It’s a treat to see your favorite old school rapper still bringing it after 34 years. The 23rd album is as politically driven and as lyrically sharp as Kris Parker has ever been and the beats, while relatively stripped down and lo-fi, are infectious and carry the message perfectly. Highlights: “Black Black Black,” “Stay Real,” “Organize”
Kiwi Jr., Cooler Returns
The second album from this free-wheeling, jangly college rock band from Prince Edward Islands is full of literate humor and earworm-y melodies. Highlights: “Highlights of 100,” “Cooler Returns,” “Undecided Voters”
Static Shapes, Wolves in White (released 12/04/20)
This Philadelphia-based indie band’s debut centers around well-timed ruminations on isolation, guided by keyboards, synths and study post-punk basslines. Highlights: “What It’s Worth,” “Plastic Days,” “Give Me The Bad News”
Here Lies Man, Ritual Divination
Coming off mostly as a hard rock band for the first few songs — mixing heavy psych, grunge and stoner metal — this LA band slowly weaves in their trademark West African influences and it just gets more and more interesting. Highlights: “What You See,” “Come Inside,” “Collector of Vanities”
Tamar Aphek, All Bets Are Off
It’s her first full-length solo album but this singer/songwriter’s already made her name as a composer and an indie guitar hero in Israel. Good mixture of meandering psychedelia and hard-driving punk energy here. Highlights: “Crossbow,” “All I Know,” “Drive”
Viagra Boys, Welfare Jazz
Often satirical, sometimes sincere and occasionally just silly, the Swedish post-punk band’s second album continues to show both society’s underbelly and its own, with help from the addition of some wonderfully seedy sax. Highlights: “Girls & Boys,” “Creatures,” “Secret Canine Agent”
Aaron Frazer, Introducing…
Dan Auberbach of the Black Keys called up the drummer and falsetto singer for Durand Jones & the Indications’ and invited to produce a record for him, and this uplifting retro-soul album is the happy result. Highlights: “If I’ve Got It (Your Love Brought It),” “Can’t Leave It Alone,” “Ride With Me”
Miho Hatori, Between Isekai and Slice of Life
The Japanese lo-fi indie electro-pop-with-a-twist-of-trip-hop duo Cibo Matto seemed much more bizarre in the 90s than Miho Hatori‘s music does now, on her anime-inspired 2nd solo album. It’s nice to see the world caught up with her. Highlights: “Tokyo Story,” “Desire,” “Bonaire”
Steve Earle & the Dukes, J.T.
On a tribute album in celebration of his departed son, Steve Earle covers a selection of Justin Townes Earle’s songs and caps it off with one heart-wrenching, though still life-affirming, original at the end. Highlights: “I Don’t Care,” “Lone Pine Hill,” “Last Words”
Using mostly traditional Scandinavian instrumentation, this Norwegian outfit makes spiritually evocative hardcore viking folk music — sung mostly in Old Norse — with an ancient and epic feel. Highlights: “Viseveiding,” “Skugge,” “Vindavlarljod”
Buck Meek, Two Saviors
A Texan folksinger best known for his role in one of NYC’s most prominent modern indie bands, the Big Thief guitarist’s second solo album is a warm, timeless folk-country album, uplifting and easy on the ears. Highlights: “Candle,” “Dream Daughter,” “Cannonball, Pt. 2”
Beautify Junkyards, Cosmorama
This Portuguese outfit blends psychedelic folk, tropicalia and chilled out electronica on their spacious and varied fourth album. Highlights: “Cosmorama,” “Zodiak Klub,” “Parangolé”
If you’d like to hear just the best of the best, here’s a playlist with 26 of my favorite songs from January 2021, which includes one or two songs from each album above, and some great songs from albums that didn’t make onto my list too: Playlist: Highlights of January 2021
While we’re here…
Did you enjoy this article? Awesome! It was written by a white guy privileged enough to have time listen to like 40 albums every month and write a blog as a passion project, for free.
If you are white and you are also are privileged enough to have some time on your hands, or some money to donate, please check out some anti-racism resources and help fight the good fight.
Nerding out over music is fun, but let’s not forget that we live in a burning world that needs our help! Black Lives Matter.