2021 in media
Well it’s been another strange year. Signs and flickers of relative normalcy (concerts! cinema! parties!) and then a reminder that IT ISN’T OVER.
But in the weirdness there have been some people making amazing music, movies, books, TV, podcasts, etc. Here are my favorite new things from this year.
Normally it’s a top 10 but this year it’s a top 20 as there was just too much good stuff.
18. La Luz — La Luz
The most ambitious hip hop album in years. Incredibly honest, amazing beats and tunes
The sound of a couple falling out of love but feeling forced to live together. Criminally overlooked — cinematic, heartfelt, biting lyrics as if Sinatra and Hazelwood have been transported to the 2020s
Still gives me goosebumps. The most beautiful, elegiac album coming from what must have been an unimaginably painful time.
What an evolution from the album and EPs before. The bridge between the Boston sound I grew up loving (Belly, Pixies, Breeders) and shiny, contemporary pop. Unexpected, odd and killer catchy hooks wrap stories of the painful realities of love and life in an age of social media.
Their first album was good but this is a huge leap forward into a more confident, dance driven sound. The first side in particular is a lesson in songwriting, production and how to sequence tracks. Been on repeat since its release.
This year two have stood out. Andy Bell has released a number of collaborations/remixes of his first solo album with Pye Corner Audio. Of these, The Indica Gallery EP was one of the best of any releases of the year, especially the Sky Walker and Cherry Cola remixes.
But the most jaw dropping EP and release of the year (arguably it may been the end of 2020 but it took the vinyl release early this year to hear it) was the debut EP from Gabriels, Love and Hate In A Different Time. The lead track (and its video) is jaw dropping. Massive talent and cannot wait for their album in 2022.
At the end of the year, Numero Group released ‘I Shall Wear A Crown’, an amazing box set of the recordings of Pastor T.L. Barrett and the Youth for Christ Choir. Absolutely gorgeous songs of devotion.
There was also a terrific compilation of French 60s pop, ‘Pop Psychedelique’.
But the compilation I have been playing the most since it was released is A Certain Ratio’s ‘Loco Remezclada’, a set of remixes and reworkings of songs from their set of EPs in 2021 and their terrific ‘ACR Loco’ album from last year. It’s just brilliant (not least Dan Carey’s remix of Down & Dirty, a fitting tribute to the majestic Denise Johnson).
Nothing this year came close to the magnificence of David Holmes’ ‘Hope Is The Last Thing To Die’. Absolutely vital and absolutely of these times.
It was amazing to get back to shows. Japanese Breakfast was a brilliant reintroduction, Dry Cleaning and Wand were fantastic but nothing came close to the two LCD Soundsystem shows I was lucky to see in Brooklyn. One of my favorite bands and quite possibly the best live band I’ve ever seen, at the top of their game with perfect sound playing two very different feeling sets. It was a demonstration of the pure magical physicality of feeling that perect sound delivers.
The go to shows this year:
Maybe the first film based on a twitter thread. Bold, brilliant storytelling, full of great performances.
The show time forgot, rescued by Questlove. Transcendent.
A magazine as a film. As weird and wonderful as you would expect a Wes Anderson edited New Yorker on film to be. The animated car chase was one of the great scenes, Jeffrey Wright was fantastic and Jarvis Cocker’s ‘Tip Top’ soundtrack was the great (not) missing 60s album.
It’s as good as the reviews have been. Beautiful to watch, two stunning lead performances, you feel like you are there. And being a PTA film, RUNNING!
Just loved every frame of this. It looks stunning. At its heart, it’s a film about a documentary on the hopes, dreams and complexities of childhood. Joaquin Phoenix is great but Woody Norman delivers the best performance from a child I’ve ever seen. Mike Mills’ greatest film yet.
Somehow both funny and sad, it’s the definitive document of Lockdown. Also includes Bezos 1.
Two great performances from Olivia Colman and David Thewlis but what lifts this series up is the sheer ambition of the production and direction switching from filmic dreamscapes to what feels like the filming of a stage play within a play.
3. Squid Game
Just the most surprising, over the top show of the year.
In any other year, this would have been #1. Contains in ‘Mass in Time of War’ and ‘Retired Janitors of Idaho’, two of the best written episodes of any shows of the last decade. The rug-pull at the end was annoyingly brilliant: three seasons focused on which child will inherit Waystar Royco when the answer was always likely to be ‘none of them’,
The show that set the bar too high for many other great shows this year. Wonderfully written, great performances. Funny and joyful at the start, devastating by the end. A fitting elegy to those who did not need to die.
I loved ‘The Girls’ but this set of stories from the dark corners of existence are arguably even better.
At surface level, a charming story of love and friendship but bubbling just below lies a debate on the ethics and impact (good and bad) of AI
The books that made me cry the most this year. A wonderful memoir of her family and late mother and taught me a lot about Korean and Korean American culture.
I’m amazed he remembered the stories but a cracking read of life growing up in Glasgow, dreams and the early years of Prima Scream. Love how it ends with Screamadelica.
It’s a book as much about Manchester and the North as it is Tony Wilson but given he was the unofficial mayor it all makes perfect sense. Beautifully written and a wonderful tribute to someone who truly put a dent in culture through his own force of nature.