Written by: Shawn Brown
As the great Mudhoney once nobly said, we’re “Flat Out Fucked.”
2021…yeah it’s not been great.
Watching humanity’s drunk toddler-like, wobbly-kneed attempts to crawl out of the dumpster fire it has set for itself is indeed a wonder to behold.
Cue up the aforementioned Mudhoney…
Though when things are at their roughest, it’s always a quick reach for the headphones for me.
Massive Attack, INXS, Ryan Bingham, Son Volt, Beth Orton, Built to Spill, Patty Griffin, it all helps.
One giant coping mechanism.
And for fuck’s sake, did we need 2021 to deliver some tunes or what?
We desperately needed folks like Brandi Carlile, Biffy Clyro, and Noah Gunderson to come through for us big time!
Thankfully, they brought it.
Not to be outdone though, Morgan Wade, Patrick Droney, and Dave Hause also came out swinging with stunners of their very own.
Thanks guys, we needed you all.
In pure “Best of the Rest” fashion, I’ve hand-picked 10 of my most favorite records from 2021 and curated a Spotify playlist of some of my favorite jams from each.
Turn it up, humans. You’re welcome.
Dave Hause: Blood Harmony
The former frontman of punkers, The Loved Ones, Dave Hause has consistently delivered moving shit in his solo incarnation. For this one, he teamed with his younger brother Tim with THE Will Hoge sitting in the producer’s seat. And Blood Harmony is everything. The record boasts perhaps my favorite cut of the year in “Gary.” Get your empathy on.
Biffy Clyro: The Myth of The Happily Ever After
Ah, Biffy. The mighty Scottish trio is in the midst of one of the longest runs of A+ records in the history of recorded music. These are not empty words. Stereo Embers Editor-in-Chief, Alex Green and I have oft-debated this fact and have come up with precious few contenders with similar achievements. Hop on the Biffy-train people! For they are simply doing something that has never been done.
Morgan Wade: Reckless
It’s true that much has already been made of this instant classic of a country disc. That said, it’s even better than all that noise suggests. You can’t ever argue with the genuine article and Morgan Wade is her very own thing. This is the most surprising/breathtaking album the entire year. So, so special!
Noah Gunderson: A Pillar of Salt
If you needed some music to cry to this year, I hope you found this record. Noah has never been better, which is saying something! He’s always been a bit of a chameleon and this time he’s coming directly for your heart. Gorgeous in every way.
Brandi Carlile: In These Silent Days
If you haven’t fallen madly, deeply in love with this magical creature as of yet, there may be very little hope for you. Due to their recent ascension to the forefront of all that is Americana, BC and the Twins are now able to flex their creative musical muscles in any damn direction they so choose. It’s a bit like not talking to your pitcher during a No-Hitter. No talking, just listening.
Patrick Droney: State of the Heart
Not at all a dude who was on my radar. This record turned into one of my “most listened to” of the entire year. If you love incendiary guitar playing teamed with great hooks, then Droney’s your guy.
The Beths: Auckland, New Zealand, 2020
If you’ve been slipping on these Kiwis, just quit it. This live offering was recorded just as New Zealand was attempting to open back up during a COVID lull. There’s something about the extra joy you can hear in a great band playing great songs to grateful humans. Magic sauce!
Needtobreathe: Into the Mystery
Look, I’ve been IN on Needtobreathe since the very beginning. They used to be a little band playing big songs in tiny rooms. They’re now a HUGE band playing bigger songs in gigantic fields. Couldn’t have happened to a nicer bunch of fellas. This record will stir the shit outta your soul. Let it!
Split Single: Amplificado
Jason Narducy is a “made man” in alt-rock circles. Turns out the Superchunk/Bob Mould Band bassman is legit-as-fuck when it comes to crafting sing-a-long rockers. MVP goes to Lord Mike Mills on this album. Yup, THAT Mike Mills.
Ariel Posen: Headway
Those fools who might have explained away Ariel Posen as merely a great slide guitar playing session fella now have this behemoth of a record to contend with. This is easily one of the very best sounding recordings of 2021. It’s pure joy for your ears.
Halsey: If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power
Halsey teaming up with Trent Renzor/Atticus Ross wasn’t ever as surprising as it was made out to be by the music intelligentsia. If anything, the shocker was the different directions this album actually takes you. Beneath all the dressings, there’s an extremely raw and brave record here.
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