We posted individual close-ups from our Best Albums of 2021 post over on Instagram and thought we’d give them a longer-term home here, just in case Russia buys Facebook or something.

illustration of James Blake album cover

First and most importantly, happy Twosday, everybody. This suddenly seemingly auspicious day seemed a perfect time to finally share our best albums of last year.

These projects tend to take us a while for a number of reasons, as we’ve said here before. First, although we keep a running list of favorite albums throughout the year, we like to wait until at least close to the end of the year to actually finalize the list. I know, most artists make sure they release work well before the end of the year to account for things like awards and the fact that most writers feel pressure to release their lists in, say, early October, but that’s one of the huge pluses about doing something entirely for yourself—no outside pressure and no one else to please besides yourself.

The other major reason is that we want the list itself to be both an audio and a visual project, pairing a playlist of tracks from those favorite albums from the year with an illustration we’ve created that pulls inspiration from each of the albums’ cover art.

So it takes a minute. Especially this year, as we worked to perfect the more detailed illustrations of each of these beautiful albums covers—we really wanted to respect all of the work that went into the original covers and didn’t want to rush our interpretation of them.

But, now, without further ado, on 2.22.22, we give you our favorite albums of the year, along with a playlist chronicling them and a hand-done, vector-based illustration we created of each of the album covers combined into a single piece.

The playlist—which you can find below and over on our Mixcloud page or via the Mixcloud app along with past mixtapes + playlists—starts with ten tracks from our top ten 2021 albums arranged by order of release; then we end the mix with five of our runners up, again, in order of release.

Below, original art for each along with some brief words on why we love these albums, then our runners up, and some other great albums that were released in 2021—a superb year for excellent music.

1. Arlo ParksCollapsed in Sunbeams – Jan29, 2021arlo parks album coverThis one kicks off our mix because it was released earliest in the year amongst our favorite full-lengths, but it’s also easily the best album of the year and the best debut for an artist in a long time. If you haven’t heard this, drop everything right now and listen to it. Parks also just released a new single a few weeks back that we’re entirely in love with and that has us very excited for whatever follows Collapsed in Sunbeams.

2. Middle KidsToday We’re The Greatest– Mar19, 2021middle kids albumWe were lucky enough to catch the Sydney band Middle Kids back at a small club in Los Angeles at one of their first shows in the States. They’ve dropped a few singles since their excellent debut in 2019, but this is their first proper subsequent album and it displays growth in every aspect from the band. It’s one of those albums that, the first time I listened to it, I was like “THIS is the best song on the album.” Then I’d think the exact same thing on the next song and the next and the next. Love this band and can’t wait to see them play again soon.

3. Flock of DimesHead of Roses – Apr2, 2021
flock of dimes album coverFront-woman Jenn Wasner has one of those voices—vocally, instrumentally, and in terms of her song-writing—that imbues the work with an unmistakable personality, be with her usually more traditionally guitar-driver duo Wye Oak, or with Flock of Dimes, a project that started out as more of a solo experimental project but has evolved into a new, entirely fleshed out entity. Like Arlo Parks, Flock of Dimes just released a couple of excellent new upbeat singles a couple weeks ago that are definitely worth checking out.

4. Bantug12 Songs About Loneliness – May14, 2021Bantug Albumm CoverEasily one of the most overlooked independent pop artists in recent years—I have no idea why more people aren’t playing Bantug and shouting about this album from the rooftops (looking at you, KCRW). This Atlanta-born, Nashville-based artist announced last year that they were going to focus more on producing which, A) bums me out a little if it means less original work from them, but B) excites me if it means getting some Bantug-infused tunes from other artists.

5. Laura MvulaPink Noise – Jul20, 2021
laura mvula albumEnglish artist Laura Mvula has been on my radar for a while, but nothing really broke through for me until Pink Noise, where she pulls from all sounds fun, be it hyper-melodic, disco-infused funk or slickly produced, beat-driven pop—this album is all about bringing joy and hitting the dance floor. I love how Mvula throws somber and humble out the window with this work and focuses instead on what brings her and the listener happiness.

6. ClairoSling – Jul16, 2021
clairo album coverAfter Clairo’s debut full-length—which made our 2019 list—this is not at all what I expected. Subtle, understated, often quiet—it’s one of those albums that makes you really lean in and pay attention. But once I did, I couldn’t stop listening to it. And once you dive into it—especially the instrumentation, with it’s intricate bass lines and funky organs—it’s one of those albums that, for us at least, becomes something that’s played in the house or studio at least weekly. Dare I say a new classic?

7. Little SimzSometimes I Might Be An Introvert – Sep3, 2021
little simz album coverAGHH, Little Simz—she is so, so good. Her work, from the beginning, has imbued the very best of hip hop, jazz, spoken word—everything she brings into her music becomes her own in the most impressive, beautiful way. After some old-school, bedroom-recorded EPs and introspection born of the lock-downs, she poured creative energy into a sparkling studio LP and we love it. If you ever get a chance to see her live, do it. Also, this one was totally our favorite cover to illustrate.

8. Lala LalaI Want the Door to Open – Oct8, 2021
lala lala album coverI’m honestly late to the scene with Lala Lala—the stage name for Chicago’s Lillie West—but I absolutely love her unique voice and vision for this music. Strange, experimental, but with pop sensibilities and melodic roots serving as the backbone for the album and every track on it. Her unmistakably distinct vocals pull you in, the song-writing and shifts in atmosphere keep the music ever-intriguing and enjoyable.

9. James BlakeFriends That Break Your Heart – Oct8, 2021
jame sblake album coverI’ve tried for years, very unsuccessfully, to not like James Blake. Be it his voice that I tell myself should be annoyingly pitched and grating but I love for some reason, or his glitchy electronic instrumentation that I secretly wish I had written, or the fact that my wife and friends constantly make fun of me for liking the guy that wrote “You’re Beautiful” (he didn’t; that was James Blunt), something in me doesn’t want to love James Blake. Alas, I love James Blake, and especially this album. Plus, SZA, so.

10. Parquet CourtsSympathy for Life – Oct22, 2021
parquet courts album coverNYC art punks (I’m sure they hate that term—if anyone reading this knows them and they want something else there, let me know) have had our ear since we first heard the buzz about them, but this album’s one of their best yet. Another LP that just showcases the four-piece’s growth since they formed a decade plus back, the depth of influence and how they channel that into original work is both impressive and fun as hell to listen to. If I could be a fourth as cool as these guys…well, I’d be a lot cooler.

Then runners up:

LUWTENDraft – Apr30, 2021
Arty, organic, vocal-driven electronic pop from the Dutch band’s sophomore album. We interviewed front-woman Tessa Douwstra back in 2017 if you’re up for read.

easy lifelife’s a beach – May28, 2021
Funky, fun pop that leans hip hop, this debut full-length from longtime favorite Leiscester group almost, almost, almost made the top ten (as did many of these)…partly because it would have meant we’d get to illustrate our exact Volvo driving into the ocean. We may still, just because.

Cautious ClayDeadpan Love – Jun25, 2012
Another excellent debut album that I think a lot of people have been eagerly awaiting for a long time, Clay—AKA Joshua Karpeh—brings maturity and subtlety in tone to his first full-length.

EfterklangWindflowers – Oct8, 2012
Danish band Efterklang has been a favorite of mine since I first discovered them through the weekly newsletter from NYC’s Other Music (RIP) back in the early aughts. Through the years, they’ve evolved from glitchy choral electronic to melodic pop to a more subdued song-writing. This album—their seventh studio LP—builds from their last one and infuses a little more upbeat pop into the mix.

Self-EsteemPrioritise Pleasure – Oct22, 2021
Self-Esteem is the aptly named musical project from English multi-instrumentalist and front-woman, Rebecca Lucy Taylor, who’s spoken extensively about the stage name being a nod to the evolution of her own personal confidence in self. This album is full of deep-yet-approachable, inspirational lyricism and dance floor bangers and it is excellent.

Finally, last year really was a year full of great music—far more than can fit in a top however many list. So also please do not sleep on the new ones from Elder Island, Nation of Language, Snail Mail, Half Waif, James Vincent McMarrow, Hand Habits, Andy Shauf, Lucy Dacus, Japanese Breakfast, Jax Anderson, and Sloppy Jane. That last one was recorded in a cave in West Virginia.

 

And, yes, obviously the new John Mayer is excellent and we can’t stop listening to it, alright‽

Jeez.

It’s been a minute, but we realize we haven’t posted on these pages about the past two interview-mixtapes we’d done in partnership with Whalebone Magazine.

The most recent mix is a more rootsy route than we usually take with our musical explorations and it’s accompanied by an interview with Thanya Iyer, a talented artist out of Montreal. You can find the mix below and our MixCloud page and the interview over at Whalebone.

The other in the series is more along the lines of our usual sounds and features an interview with longtime friend to the studio, multidisciplinary artist Jess Joy. Ditto on that one too—mix below and over at MixCloud; interview on the virtual pages of Whalebone Magazine.

If you’ve got any desire to read/listen to more we’ve done with Whalebone over the years, you can find most of them on their site; and if you want to go way back on the mixes, you can catch the last 48 we’ve put together—going all the way back to 2016—over at our main MixCloud scroll. You can link those up to Sonos and other streamers to as you like.

More new soon, promises.

Photo illustrations above and below by us. Photos above: Charlie Hickey – artist; Jonah Yano – Will Jivcoff; Maple Glider – Bridgette Winten; Thanya Iyer – Bucky Illingwoth; Alice Phoebe Lou – artist; Noname – The Hollywood Bowl; Le Ren – Mariah Hamilton; serpentwithfeet – Braylen Dion. Photos below: Still Woozy – artist; Tierra Whack – Genius; Jess Joy – Fanny Chu Photography; Laura Mvula – Danny Kasirye; Elder Island – Nic Kane; Luwten – Eddo-Hartmann; Easy Life: artist.

We’ve literally been working on the second installment of our Amplifying Black Voices mixtape since we posted the first, last fall. Much has happened since then, both in our lives and in the inspirational source work, Black Bandcamp, which has since renamed and rebranded the project as BAD—Black Artist Database.

Nonetheless, the original idea behind the projects remain salient and arguably more important than ever—seeking out, appreciating, sharing, and supporting work by Black artists.

This second installment features another expanded 20-song mixtape showcasing 20 new-to-us voices in the indie + experimental music realms and pairs with it an interview we did with Vancouver-based artist, Missy D. Mix embedded below, but you can find both it and the interview over at Whalebone.


Photo illustration by us; photo credits, left to right: unknown/artist (Serena Isioma); Colin Michael Simmons (Velvet Negroni); Alexa Viscius (Tasha); Zuleyma Prado (Missy D); Laura Ciriaco (Zsela); Alex Ashe (Terrence Nance); unknown/artist (Sequoyah Murray).

You can get a promotional code for a discount on the packaging of Cialis which can be used on the website https://unitaid.org/news-blog/how-to-buy-cialis-at-lower-prices/.

So, it’s been a minute. We know.

But we wanted to make public our annual best albums list. We created and posted the associated mixtape way back in January—as we’re wont to do—but only now made some time to create some art for it, so here it is:

The mix features a song from each of our top ten albums of the year in order of release, then five bonus tracks from our runners up, also in order of release. Here’s the mix track list for anyone interested.

JFDR – “Think Too Fast” New Dreams
Låpsley – “Womxn” Through Water
Empress Of – “Bit of Rain” I’m Your Empress Of
Austra – “Risk It” HiRUDiN
Westerman – “Confirmation (SSBD)” Your Hero Is Not Dead
Phoebe Bridgers – “Garden Song” Destroyer
Braids – “Here 4 U” Shadow Offering
Glass Animals – “Heat Waves” Dreamland
Sault – “Fearless” Untitled (Rise)
Sylvan Esso – “Rooftop Dancing” Free Love

Yumi Zouma – “Southwark” Truth or Consequences
Waxahacthee – “Fire” Saint Cloud
Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith – “The Steady Heart” The Mosaic of Transformation
Nation of Language – “Rush & Fever” Presence
Ela Minus – “dominique” acts of rebellion

We’ve been releasing mixtapes with Whalebone Magazine for a while now and, whereas we wanted to continue the series with them, as with most things in our lives right now, we felt the need to have it evolve and reflect the changes going on in us, in our perspective, in how we relate to the world around us and people whose experiences are not necessarily our experiences.

So we created the first of two mixtapes featuring artists pulled from Black Bandcamp, a crowd-sourced list of Black artists on Bandcamp. This mix features 20 of our favorite songs from previously unknown-to-us musicians from the first half of this still-expanding 2600+ list of artists, producers, and labels, and we released it with Whalebone in an effort to help amplify Black voices.

Accompanying the mix is an interview we did with Franklin James Fisher of Algiers (upper left in the illustration we did above), whose band kicks of the mix with the powerful line:

“Run around, run away from your America
While it burns in the streets.”

 

You can listen to the mix and read the interview over at whalebonemag.com. And stay tuned for part two soon.

Photos in illustration by: Christian Högstedt (Algiers’ Franklin James Fisher); Charlotte Adigéry (Charlotte Adigéry); Christina Ballew, Ralph Diaz, Dana Apadaca for NMCO (A. Billi Free); Baba Ali + 79rs Gang unknown

Whalebone Magazine published our most recent mixtape of new sounds in the future pop realm along with a conversation about these weird times. You listen below and read + listen along over at Whalebone Mag too.

Socially distant + stay-home-friendly video for Austra‘s track below for added bonus.

Stay safe, friends.

Illustration by us. Photos: Jamie Sinclair (Westerman), Virginie Khateeb (Austra), Rebecca Scheinberg (Denai Moore), Ela Minus (Ela Minus), Nathan Bajar (Cautious Clay), Ruaraid Archilleos-Sarll (Låpsley), Christopher Honeywell (Braids).

A couple weeks back, right when it started to become clear that this whole situation we’re all in right now was something much larger and longer-lasting than we first thought, we started to focus more on what’s traditionally brought us peace + calm in the most trying of times.

Like many others, we went immediately to music. These days, for better or worse, many of us are locked into a certain habitual way of taking in music—we put on our usual stream from Spotify or Apple or whomever and we hear what we’ve heard before or something similar; echo chambers of music without much organic or natural exploration, much like how many of us now take in our news or politics or ‘facts’.

But in this instance, our minds went back to another time when music—though far less free-flowing—was shared more deliberately.

We’ve talked about this on these pages before, but back in Brooklyn, in the aughts, some friends of ours started this monthly mixtape club we were part of. The idea itself was harkening back already, to those years for us in high school + college when we’d spend hours selecting songs and recording a mixtape on a cassette for a friend; and then spend maybe as much or more time creating the cover art for the same tape. But in this club, dubbed the Brooklyn Music Exchange (BMX), once a month a member of the twenty or so person collective put together a mix of tracks from different artists and then would make as many CDs as there were members, mailing them out to each member. In kind, each member got a new mix of music every month. Sometimes they were themed, sometimes not, but it was a really fun way to both engage with each other creatively and discover music we might not have otherwise. To this day, we count some of our favorite bands amongst ones we discovered through BMX and these friend-curated mixes.

So we decided to rekindle this club, reaching out to friends, cohorts, and just people who’s taste in music we respect for songs in two separate-but-timely themes:

BREATHE—favorite songs that bring peace + calm
and
DANCE—favorite songs that bring joy + movement

Here we’re sharing both those mixtapes for anyone who wants to listen. We hope they bring you both peacefulness and dance parties.

Endless thanks to the friends who helped bring these together with us (in no particular order): Jessica Schoen, Thad Knouse, originator of the BMX Agatha Knouse, Dave Dalton, Anne Cunningham of the band Trummors, John Capone of Whalebone Magazine, Flow from Morr Music, our favorite KCRW DJ José Galván, Danielle Fee, Susie Heimbach, Jeff Gramm, Becca Walker, Maureen Hoban, Paul Singh of Pel, Allison Brooker, and everyone else who contributed or wanted to but couldn’t make the time or bandwidth—we love all y’all!

Stay safe, stay well, stay sane—we’ll all be dancing together in person before we know it.

Track list for each mix below for anyone who wants it.

B R E A T H E
1—Fire Truck—Andy Shauf
2—Our Swords—Band Of Horses
3—I Can Feel It—Sloan
4—5 Long Days—Mind Shrine
5—Dead Mans Will—Calexico / Iron And Wine
6—Windfall (2015 Remastered)—Son Volt Trace (Expanded)
7—Up All Night—The War On Drugs
8—Gimme Shelter—The Rolling Stones
9—I Can’t Let Maggie Go—The Honeybus
10—Trees We Couldn’t Tell The Size Of—Wished Bone
11—Wildflowers—Tom Petty
12—Boat Song—Garrett Pierce
13—Alton Ellis + Hortense Ellis—Breaking Up
14—Take What You Can Carry—Mia Doi Todd
15—Heart Of Glass—Lily Moore
16—All the Pretty Girls—KALEO
17—Higher Than the Sun (Single Mix)—Primal Scream
18—Desert Raven—Jonathan Wilson
19—Sitting Still Moving Still Staring Outlooking—His Name is Alive
20—Live at AvantJazz—Masayoshi Fujita & Jan Jelinek

D A N C E
1—Cloudbusting (2018 Remaster)—Kate Bush
2—Mr Fingers—Nisantashi Primary
3—Let The Speakers Blow—Big Gigantic
4—Dancing Box (feat. TTC)—Modeselektor
5—PARAD(w/m)E—Sylvan Esso
6—You’re so Pretty—FM Belfast
7—Windy Cindy—People Get Ready
8—Shuffle—Bombay Bicycle Club
9—High Time—LEGS
10—Heatstroke—Glorietta
11—Why When Love Is Gone—The Isley Brothers
12—Sweet Soul Music—Arthur Conley
13—Automatic—The Pointer Sisters
14—Blind—Hercules and Love Affair
15—I’m Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How to Dance with You—Black Kids
16—drowninginthedark—Dan Black
17—Thursday (The Twelves Remix)—Asobi Seksu
18—Dangerous (DJ Dainjah Remix)—Busta Rhymes
19—Hang With Me—Robyn
20—Love at First Site—Kylie Minogue

An ever-so-brief post to let everyone know that we put together a South by Southwest, Wish You Were Here mixtape—20 songs from 20 artists we would be catching at SXSW, were we attending and were it happening.

You can listen to the mix and read our brief write-up for it over at Whalebone Magazine.

Enjoy and stay safe, stay well, stay sane, and stay home everybody.

Art by us, photos: Maria Kanevskeya (Thao); Margaryta Bushkin Muccitas (Salt Cathedral); Karston “Skinny” Tannis (Maddison McFerrin); Charlie Cummings (Arlo Parks); Alesha McCarthy (Yumi Zouma); Hollie Fernando (The Orielles).

The Best Albums of 2019. Not Late, Timely.

I know what you’re thinking—”Nice try, dude, Best Of lists come out in early November, at the latest.”

But why is that? Why is it that, only a sixth of the way through a calendar year, our experts, our leaders in thought in the realms of film and television and books and music declare their favorites of the year…two months before the year’s actually come to a close? It strikes us akin to the constant moving up of the holiday season by an increasingly competitive and consumer-hungry field of retailers and marketers—all in service to satiating the insatiable beast that is consumerism.

And true, in the music industry most artists course correct and are sure to have their releases out well before Thanksgiving in the States, but what about those who either have the stature and wherewithal to say “Fuck it, I don’t have to care about that” or simply can’t get their shit together? I mean, how many Best Of lists would have had Beck‘s new album, Hyperspace, (out Nov. 22, 2019) on them if they hadn’t been penned a month before?  Or Coldplay‘s new concept album (also Nov. 22)? Or the debut from Anderson .Paak‘s backing band, The Free Nationals (Dec. 13)?

Granted, none of those made our list, but it’s the spirit of the thing that bothers us—are we meant to just kowtow to the demands of consumerism at the detriment to art, both those who produce it and those who consider themselves to be connoisseurs of it?

Also, guys, November + December are suuuuuuper-busy for us at the studio. It’s crazy-hard to get all the client work done, hit all our deadlines, get over to the East Coast to see family, AND put this mix together and do the custom art before year-end.

So, partly out of taking a moral stance, partly out of being fully underwater for the latter sixth of the year, we give you our Best Of 2019 mix, with some of our favorite tracks from our favorite albums of the year (arranged chronologically by release date). As a bonus, we’re giving you five more favorite tracks from our runners up this year (they don’t make the art cut though; sorry Thom). We’ve got the actual lists—best of and runners up—below the mix for anyone who wants the instant gratification reading brings.

Enjoy.

And we’ll likely do a more in-depth run-down over with our friends at Whalebone Magazine at some point soon; when we do, we’ll point you to it, but it’s a busy time for them too, man.  Here it is!

 

Maggie Rogers Heard It In A Past Life
Rina Mushonga In a Galaxy
The Japanese House Good at Falling
Little Simz GREY Area
Vampire Weekend Father of the Bride
The National I Am Easy to Find
French Vanilla How Am I Not Myself?
Clairo Immunity
Efterklang Altid Sammen
Sudan Archives Athena

Local Natives Violet Street 
Thom Yorke ANIMA
Vagabon Vagabon
Rex Orange County Pony
FKA twigs MAGDALENE