Words by David C. Obenour
David C. Obenour is the founder and editor for Off Shelf. Prior to that, he served as the editor and co-publisher of Ghettoblaster’s print magazine, and wrote as a contributor for Under the Radar, The Big Takeover, Filter, Devil in the Woods, Metro.pop, and a number of other current and long gone publications.
10. Anna Fox Rochinski – Cherry (Don Giovanni)
So, who else toiling away in a psych rock band is holding on to a perfectly crafted pop album? Anyone from Tame Impala? Someone cycling through the Brian Jonestown Massacre has to have, right? Now that I ask, I bet John Dwyer did. But the one that really came forward in 2021 was from Anna Fox Rochinski, stepping out from her collaborative effort Quilt to deliver us Cherry. Emerging from these lush sounds proved a perfect addition to the pop equation she’d been Beautiful Mind-ing together all these years in her head.
9. Tonstartssbandht – Petunia (Mexican Summer)
This is their nineteenth album? Shit, I need to be paying more attention. That said, Petunia is only the Florida duo’s second studio album – and second for Mexican Summer – so I guess that’s some excuse. Born out of quarantine, the songs were written and recorded without the foil of live audiences – making for their most succinct to date (though only two clock in under six and a half minutes). Airy and light, building to frantic and impassioned, before cresting and crashing back down again. Guess it’s time to go track down some old releases via Discogs.
8. jess joy – PATREEARCHY (Joyful Noise)
jess joy may present herself through lower case letters because she “is a small thing” and doesn’t “feel comfortable taking up a lot of space” but her album, PATREEARCHY makes it hard to stay inside those restrictions. In a similar manner to Fiona Apple, Devendra Banhart, Goldfrapp, Bjork and any other number of idiosyncratic talents, she uses every ounce of herself to create something more. Each listens reveals more sounds and melodies, more lyrical play on another level, just more and more. For her solo debut, she seems to have no shortage of herself to share.
7. TV Priest – Uppers (Sub Pop)
Recommended if you like: Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, NYC’s No Wave revival scene, The Killers, and just generally feeling like you’re real hot shit. Yeah, the last one really hits the nail on the head. This is rock and roll music that permeates deep, tensing up your muscles – ideally to be let out through mirror singing, faux accents (or legit, if you’re just naturally English), and theatric hand gestures. A helluva opening salvo that will be interesting to see how they follow up on.
6. The Body – I’ve Seen All I Need To See (Thrill Jockey)
Who-ho-ho-boy, does I’ve Seen All I Need To See completely level everything. And in a year like 2021, following a year like 2020 (and maybe, depressingly, going into a year like 2022), does destroying every last god damn thing out there feel amazing. There are melodies to be unearthed, which is nice because in the past I haven’t spent as much time with The Body (something I plan to rectify), but they are absolutely buried beneath the ash and rubble of unhinged distortion. Smear it all over your face and head out into the brave new world.
5. Lael Neale – Acquainted With Night (Sub Pop)
Acquainted with Night feels like Stephen Merritt sat down with a Omnichord and wrote the music for a lost, lofi Disney princess movie. Except, instead of dueting with birds, Lael is trading drags from a cigarette and day-to-day gripes with fellow workers from the service industry. The poetry is everyday and finds its beauty and meaning in the still and at first glance, unremarkable. Paradoxically, the results are pretty remarkable.
4. Wednesday – Twin Plagues (Orindal)
Y’all. Don’t stop listening to new music. And no, I don’t mean the shuffleplay/”what’s next” channel while you’re working. Really give new music a chance to sink its hooks in beyond just some tastemaker/algorithm choice for a single. Because if you do, you may just find a band like Wednesday – who rips like some of your favorite bands, throw in a weird dose of Carolina country, and WHAM! they become your number four favorite album of the year. Music is worth investing in.
The fact that HEY WHAT is my third favorite album of the year says far more about albums 1 and 2 than it does about what Low was able to accomplish for their thirteenth album. Beautifully blasted apart guitar and drums swirl around the duo’s impressive songwriting progression. This feels like an album in the way that the best Nick Cave albums can – drop the needle, sit down and get completely lost in the emotional experience from start to finish.
2. Mouse on Mars – AAI (Thrill Jockey)
It’s absurd for an album to be so conceptually ambitious and still this musically engaging. Jan St. Werner and Andi Toma – along with drummer and frequent collaborator, Dodo NKish – have created an album that follows the history and evolution of artificial intelligence to a theoretic science fiction future. Reaching outside of their own experience in exploratory electronica music, they collaborated with AI programmers and intellectuals in the field, culminating in a masterfully scattered and seeking album of songs and vignettes.
1. Guided by Voices – Earth Man Blues (GBV Inc)
Press this shit on gold, blast it into space for Mr. Bezos’s next Wild Ride, and get ready to high-five every intelligent being in the galaxy, because Earth Man Blues is a fact. “Disconnected Citizen” unfolds into a string-backed softrock classic, “Trust Them Now” pummels harder than My Bloody Valentine, and “How Can a Plumb be Perfected” simply cannot be perfected any further. Album after album is continual proof that we are currently living in the Classic-era of GBV.