My annual review of what I’ve most enjoyed listening to during the last 12 months, and my albums of the year.
- Mordred—The Dark Parade
- Sel Balamir—Swell (EP)
- Amplifier—Bonus EP (2004) / Glory Electricity (Sunset Version)
- Steven Wilson—The Future Bites
- Jerry Cantrell—Brighten
- Graeme Lamb—Winter Passing
- Mastodon—Hushed and Grim
- Charlie Benante—Silver Linings
- Aporia—Internal Conflict
- Exodus—Persona Non Grata
- Iron Maiden—Senjutsu
2021 was a little better than the previous year in terms of the number of albums acquired. This year I added 17 new releases to my collection, compared with 11 last year. A far cry from the 123 I acquired in 2005—three years before I had children, mind!
Top 15 artists (Last.fm)
Before launching into my top 10 albums though, I’ve just taken a look at my Last.fm top 15 artists over the last 12 months. This reflects what I’ve actually been listening to over the last year: at home, at work, and on my Android phone. Thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic, however, most of this was on my PC at home.
My Last.fm 2021 report offers me the following statistics:
- 421 artists (compared with 297 in 2020, a 41% increase)
- 695 albums played (compared with 594 in 2020)
- 5,101 tracks played (compared with 4,692 in 2020)
- I listened to music most on a Friday
- My most active hour for listening to music is 16:00
- My most active music listening day was 16 June (97 tracks played)
- My most popular genres were rock, thrash metal, progressive rock, metal and progressive metal
These were my top 15 artists listened to throughout the year:
- Marillion—221 tracks
- Big Country—173
- Lamb of God—154
- Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart—152
- Depeche Mode—150
- Foo Fighters—143
- Dream Theater—137
- Chris Remo (Firewatch soundtrack)—127
Entries above in bold indicate artists that also feature in this year’s top 10 of new music.
Reflecting on the past 12 months saw me move from Cegedim Healthcare Solutions to Sky in May, and then accept a new job in December (starting in January 2022), working from home, enduring arguably the worst British government in living history, while trying to avoid Covid-19, I am not surprised that I retreated into my favourite artists for familiarity and comfort through such turmoil.
Just as I also ‘binge watched’ a number of series on Netflix, I also found myself ‘binge listening’ to the entire back catalogues of favourite artists. That Marillion (#1) came out top is a bit of a surprise. A documentary about the life of Freddie Mercury and rewatching footage of the 1992 tribute concert at Wembley (I was there!) reignited my love of Queen (#4)—I have struggled with their Paul Rodgers and Adam Lambert incarnations.
I am still working my way slowly through the Mozart box set (#8), and listening to Dave Grohl’s autobiography on Audible lead that Foo Fighters (#10) making a surprise appearance. I also found listening to the Firewatch soundtrack by Chris Remo (#14) soothing an conducive to working along to, which is why that appeared.
The first of two lockdown albums, I loved Sepultura’s ‘SepulQuarta’ collaborations as they came out on YouTube.
As Sepultura guitarist Andreas Kisser said to Blabbermouth, “‘SepulQuarta’ was born at the very beginning of the pandemic when everything was halted. We had a new album out, but we couldn’t tour for it. Therefore, we created this recurring event where we could talk with our fans around the world, play our music and exchange ideas. It was a blast! ‘SepulQuarta’ kept us alive and strong throughout one of the most difficult times in human history.”
9. Charlie Benante—Silver Linings
The second lockdown collaborations album was courtesy of Anthrax drummer and primary song-writer Charlie Benante whose online collaborations were fabulous, not least because unlike the Sepultura offering Benante didn’t restrict himself to just music from his own band or genre, he covered Fleetwood Mac, Run DMC, Living Color, U2, etc. It certainly showcases Benante’s skills behind the drum kit.
8. Mastodon—Hushed and Grim
I love Mastodon! But this release—their longest album to date—somehow failed to miss the mark for me. While every release until now has torn up the rulebook and explore new musical territories, this somehow seemed to rehash a lot of old ground. But isn’t that true of much of the last two years. Here we go round again… Maybe it’s an album that will grow on me.
Ah! Gojira (the Japanese name for the monster Godzilla). Fortitude is the album that many reviewers claimed saw the French band hitting their stride and producing an album that may well appeal to the masses. Sold out? No way! A brutal and jarring album in places but one that still speaks to my soul.
6. Graeme Lamb—Winter Passing
I was in the National Youth Choir of Great Britain with Graeme back in the mid-80s/early-90s. It has been a joy to follow his composition journey over the last few years. Winter Passing is a collection of mostly original, gentle and beautiful piano pieces. You can find it on Bandcamp.
5. Jerry Cantrell—Brighten
Brighten is the third solo album by Alice in Chains guitarist, vocalist and songwriter Jerry Cantrell. While it is in everyway recognisably Cantrell, compared with the sorrowful ‘grungy’ Alice in Chains, this album has a more upbeat and cheerful sound. Brighten indeed. Just what I need at the end of a tough two years.
4. Steven Wilson—The Future Bites
There is not much music that Steven Wilson has had a hand in that I haven’t enjoyed. The Future Bites is step away from his more obviously progressive and rock/metal offerings, tapping into a more pop and disco vibe. And it’s great! Track 7, “Personal Shopper” even features a cameo by Sir Elton John.
3. Amplifier—Bonus EP (2004) / Glory Electricity (Sunset Version)
As I have probably said elsewhere, I first encountered Amplifier when they were supporting Melissa auf der Maur back in April 2004. They blew me away and I’ve bought almost everything by them since. “Glory Electricity (Sunset Version)” is a single track release, an acoustic version of the loud, feedback-infused, twisting monster track on the Bonus EP, songs that were originally recorded in 2004—the year their debut album was released.
Listen on Bandcamp
2. Sel Balamir—Swell
Sel Balamir is the guitarist, vocalist and driving force behind Amplifier. Swell is a more gently progressive, ambient and thoughtful offering than the twisting rock of Amplifier. “Jacques Cousteau” is my favourite track on this all too short album. That said, the three tracks last 41 minutes 21 seconds.
Listen on Bandcamp
1. Mordred—The Dark Parade
Mordred’s 1991 alternative thrash/crossover release In This Life has remained one of my all-time favourite records. From my first listen of The Dark Parade in July, I knew this was going to be my record of the year. It has everything I love in an album. It is interesting, unpredictable, humourous, serious, and it crosses so many musical boundaries that it’s hard to pin down where it should be categorised. I could listen to this on repeat … and, actually, this year that is exactly what I have done.
A brilliant, brilliant album!