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Diego’s Favorites of 2021… So Far

We have ventured more than halfway through the year 2021, and to my satisfaction a lot of music has been released. I have greatly enjoyed the releases of 2021 more than the relatively dry year of 2020. I will share some of my favorite EPs and albums of 2021 so far, but first a quick mention of songs that have kept me very optimistic for the future. Duran Duran’s “Invisible” and Manic Street Preacher’s “Orwellian” are strong teasers for each artist’s respective forthcoming albums. The piano composition on “Orwellian” embraces elegant optimism for the band’s return on The Ultra Vivid Lament, and “Invisible” returns to the thrilling moments of 2011’s All You Need Is Now. Elephant Gym remains as calculated and suave as ever with their track “Go Through the Night”; and Safeplanet’s “วันที่สวยงาม (To The Day)” brings the warm, dreamy vibes I come to expect from the band. The new intro for I Promised You The Moon, “รู้งี้เป็นแฟนกันตั้งนานแล้ว (Safe Zone)”, sets the romantic tone for the characters of Teh and Oh-aew in this follow up to I Told Sunset About You. PP Krit and Billkin harmoniously deliver the feelings of love that their respective characters discovered at the end of the first season of my favorite show of 2020. Moving away from just songs, it is time to alphabetically look at the EPs and albums that satisfied me from between January to the end of June.

Photo of Elephant Gym’s “Go Through the Night”. Art by Smoky Tu from Foresters Studio

ACR:EPA EP – A Certain Ratio

ACR Loco was my favorite album of 2020, and A Certain Ratio are back again in 2021 to deliver three EPs. There is a bittersweet feel to the EP, due to the feature of Denise Johnson’s glorious vocals. Her voice is the most attractive element on this first EP. My favorite track: “Keep it Together”

Cull Ficle – Asian Glow

The first of a few albums to be featured on this list released under Longinus Recordings. Cull Ficle brings attractively uneasy vocals with some scratchy guitars and good ol’ noise. A great album to drift in grief and eventually drown in said grief. My favorite track: “No Exit”

Shadow of Funk EP – Cabaret Voltaire

Shadow of Fear is a great return from industrial pioneers Cabaret Voltaire, despite the band now solely consisting of Richard Kirk. He returned this year with an EP and two drone albums. While the albums are great for me to relax, Shadow of Funk brings the club beats and harsh electronics I loved from 2020. My favorite track: “Skinwalker”

Scatterbrain – The Chills

I knew from the Captain Cutler looking cover that this album from The Chills was going to be a favorite for 2021. A world of wonderous guitars, chilly (no pun intended) keyboards, and murky basses overflow on this LP. It might be a hot take, but The Chills’ discography only gets more enjoyable with each new album. My favorite track: “The Walls Beyond Abandon”

The Tunnel and the Clearing – Colleen

Completely laced in shining synths and radiant organs, The Tunnel and the Clearing shows a new evolution in Colleen’s discography. The pulsating electronics, lush vocals, and sweeping production drown you in an adventure of enlightenment and self-discovery. My favorite track: “The Tunnel and the Clearing”

I Would Prefer Not To – dating

Emocore is back from the dead! The rawness of the instrumentation perfectly glues to the edgy vocals. The vibes are perfect to take a stroll down a dark and gritty alley in the early morning. Let your ears absorb the music deep into your brain so thoughts of self-destruction can manifest. My favorite track: “Skin Wish”

Big Mess – Danny Elfman

Danny Elfman has returned to his Oingo Boingo roots to release a new nightmare enriched album. The unexpected drop of “Happy” led me to believe that more was on the way, and to my extreme pleasure… Danny Elfman delivered the goods. Taking industrial electronics, raw guitars, and structured strings to elevate his dark lyrics and distinct voice. My favorite track: “Happy”

Frontera – Fly Pan Am

This is the most accessible release from Fly Pan Am. The rigidness of the group still bleeds into each track on the LP. The added mechanic droning, sharp electronics, and danceable beats give strength to the hypnotic appeal of Frontera. My favorite track: “Parkour”

Deep England – Gazelle Twin & Nyx

Another album that immediately caught my attention solely for the cover. The pagan design suits the medieval journey through the deepest and darkest corners of your mind. I recommend this LP for any Dead Can Dance fans out there. My favorite Track: “Fire Leap”

The Third Chimpanzee EP – Martin Gore

While I wait for the next Depeche Mode album, Martin Gore has supplied me with an eerie, electronic manuscript to enjoy during the wait. This EP instilled in me feelings of paranoia as if I were being watched by a troop of phantom monkeys. The video for “Howler” certainly did not help to ease my mind. My favorite track: “Howler”

Jubilee – Japanese Breakfast

Jubilee, appropriately titled, because every song is an anthem for celebrating positivity. Michelle Zauner gifts bubbly and bright songs to shine a light in the darkness that has been present throughout the pandemic. If you need a bit of positivity to help you though the day, please listen to Jubilee! My favorite track: “Sit”

Afrique Victime – Mdou Moctar

This album took me on an epic prog journey through a desert of fiery grooves with warm breezes of electrifying guitar performances. There is a guitar legend living on this planet and his name is Mdou Moctar. It’s time for everyone to recognize him and pay their respects by giving this album a listen. My favorite track: “Afrique Victime”

As the Love Continues – Mogwai

Mogwai’s new LP was the first album I listened to of the 2021 releases. This was my preview into how 2021 would deliver musically, and this LP certainly gave me high hopes. The wolf on the cover is the gritty guitars and monstrous drums personified, as they attack you on every track. A huge congrats to Mogwai reaching #1 on the UK Album charts! My favorite track: “Ceiling Granny”

To See the Next Part of the Dream – Parannoul

[redacted]. My favorite track: “Excuse”

Arena – Pixel Grip

I felt as if I walked down into a dark club at 1am, where the only light source is a blinding, red neon light positioned in the center of the club. The vibes are sexy and the beats are just as provocative. A big thank you to our program director Jacob for introducing me to Pixel Grip. My favorite track: “Club Mania”

Seeking New Gods – Gruff Rhys

The almost Ukiyo-e styled mountain assured me that this new Gruff Rhys concept album would deliver. You are immersed into the journey of Paektu Mountain accompanied with misty pianos, glistening trumpets, and foggy synths. Play this album and let yourself take a moment to be vulnerable in the beauty of nature. My favorite track: “Distant Snowy Peaks”

Weird – sonhos tomam conta

As the first of two albums from sonhos tomam conta, Weird is a perfect balance of chaotic and fast to calming and slow. The contradictory elements work with each other on each track resulting in the experience of either an amazing rush of energy or a desired delay of energy. My favorite track: “sonhos, etc.”

The Chaos Chapter: Freeze – TOMORROW X TOGETHER

I’m just as surprised as you that I enjoyed a K-pop album. The only K-pop artist I’ve enjoyed before this is Holland, but something about this album from TXT gave great energy from the instrumentation. Each song sounds like a throwback to the hair rock and pop anthems of the 80s. I will always profess my loyalty to Perfume as being the best pop group in the world, but this album deserves some recognition for its attractive songs. My favorite track: “Dear Sputnik”

sketchy. – tUnE-yArDs

tUnE-yArDs are back! sketchy. is a glorious return to the group’s sound of W H O K I L L and Nikki Nack. Merrill Garbus’ voice and the danceable rhythms combine to create a perfect musical concoction bringing sweet joy to your ears. My favorite track: “hypnotized”

La Ola Interior (Spanish Ambient & Acid Exotism : 1983-1990) – Various Artists

First thing was this album cover. I have no idea what this figure is, but its so eerie that I am easily attracted to it. Second, this title. You can expect only the most unnatural sounds from an album with the phrase “acid exotism” in its title. The album delivers those unnatural sounds in spades. I imagine the figure on the album cover is the specter that haunts each of these engaging and unsettling tracks. My favorite track: “Sheikh”

Those were my favorite EPs and albums for the first half of 2021. I hope to have intrigued you to give a listen to at least one album on my list. Here’s a playlist of my favorite tracks for 2021 that will be continually updated as I listen to more albums, EPs, and singles. I will do the second half of 2021 probably in December, so look forward to that.


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