There is no such thing as “bad” music. That shouldn’t be a controversial statement. I know I knock some stuff that I listen to – cough, Jethro Tull – but it doesn’t mean I think it’s bad: I just don’t get why other people think it’s good, which is not the same thing. In the end, all that matters is if the music you are listening to gives you pleasure. That enjoyment can take a lot of forms. It can be an intellectual satisfaction that comes from hearing something truly original or played masterfully, or something that stirs your emotions, or makes you dance, or takes you back to an earlier time, or that makes you chuckle. All that matters is that you like it. As long as you don’t force that onto others, then you be you.
What I will never understand is the kind of music fan who needs to slam an artist as part of elevating their personal favourite. (This seems unique to music. Pynchon fans don’t need to slag Gaddis, Tarantino fanboys can also love Nolan flicks, etc.) J. Cole seems to bring this out in people, which is nuts – he doesn’t need help to be awesome, and saying otherwise doesn’t make it true either. Or people who feel that listening to both artists in a beef (which generally means rappers, or maybe a Gallagher brother) is a betrayal of their favourite. I choose to listen to Kanye over Drake because I think Ye is the vastly superior artist and my listening time is precious. I don’t need to say “Drake sucks” as part of that choice. (On the other hand, Kanye also seems to be something of an ass, while Aubrey is one of the most naturally likeable people in music today. The wrong guy tried to get into politics. I don’t know if he’d be good at governing, but Drake would make a fantastic candidate.)
If you want to spend your listening time blasting Ariana Grande, I respect that. I don’t understand your choice, but it is undeniably yours to make, and good for you for deciding to live on what is to my ears the aural equivalent of a diet of stale Cheetos and warm Diet Coke. Some people do fine on such a diet – and I’ve consumed my fair share of both over the years – and she might just be your prime rib, while my Elvis Costello playlist is your idea of a piece of bubblegum scraped off the underside of a desk. Everyone’s tastebuds are unique – just ask anyone who thinks cilantro tastes like soap.
All of the above is a preamble to listing – yes, a few weeks late – my favourite new music of 2021. Not the ”best” music, because its not my place to say. I rarely write about it, but I listen to a lot of new music. Usually, it’s while walking (in nicer weather, I walk around 90 minutes each Saturday and Sunday), or exercising – something about physical activity and new sounds just clicks for me. A lot of these will be unfamiliar names, but I highly recommend checking them out – you may find a few here that don’t taste soapy to you either.
Here they are – my top 20 of 2021. Bracketed comments are from Twitter after the first time I played a particular record (weather conditions and my overall mood are the key factors in whether I tweet about something or not).
- Bad Bad Hats – Walkman
- CHAI – WINK
- Halsey – If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power
- Hana Vu – Public Storage
- Hand Habits – Fun House
- Hovvdy – True Love (“melodic indie pop, meditative whispery vocals, solid song craft”)
- Illuminati Hotties – Let Me Do One More (“endlessly clever, musically diverse, catchy hooks”)
- Jazmine Sullivan – Heaux Tales
- Jenevieve – Division (“languid and kind of trippy, with bracing melodies”)
- Jordana & TV Girl – Summer’s Over (trippy, breezy, dreamlike)
- Jose Gonzalez – Local Valley (“gentle, contemplative, soulful”)
- Lana Del Ray – Chemtrails over the Country Club
- Lil Nas X – Montero
- Lily Konigsberg – Lily We Need to Talk Now
- Macie Stewart – Mouth Full of Glass (“guitar forward, complex and rich sounding, yet decidedly not fussy”)
- Megan Thee Stallion – Something for Thee Hotties
- Nilufer Yanya – Inside Out (“soulful, honest, insistent – the melodies burrow deep and don’t release you until the next track starts up”)
- Snail Mail – Valentine
- The War on Drugs – I Don’t Live Here Anymore
- Wiki – Half God (“the (mostly) slow rolling soulful light jazz/borderline ambient backing tracks can’t hide the truth in his raps”)