I spent more time dropping the needle in 2021 than ever before. In fact, I tracked it! I played close to 1,500 records last year, counting records played once or over a dozen times.
Rather than doing a year-end “best of” list, which is highly subjective and tends to change the day after hitting Publish, this year will include the highly Objective list of records with the most spins from my collection.
1. Kevin Morby: Sundowner
My #1 new album in 2020 continued its reign as the #1 album to hit my record player in 2021. Kevin Morby’s Sundowner is thematically introspective. Morby dwells on life and death, “Sundowner” being the predominant term that ties it all together.
“Sundowner is one of those words that has so many meanings depending on who you ask,” Morby says. “I know the most popular meanings relate to Alzeheimers, or a cocktail you have at sunset. I’ve actually been seeing it in the news a lot lately, when describing these wildfires in California there’s these sundowner winds. But the way that we sort of were using it was one who feels the melancholy or depression that comes with nightfall.”American Songwriter
The creation of Sundowner drew upon not only these real-time experiences of deepening sadness and depression as the sun began to set, but also reminiscence of recent (2017-2018) significant losses in Morby’s own life.
Listen to “Campfire” below.
“Campfire” remains a favorite to this day.
2. Big Thief: Capacity
Big Thief’s Capacity is one of many albums from that band to grace my top album spins of 2021, but I’m limiting it to one per artist. Two Hands and Masterpiece also made the list, but Capacity received the most plays. Big Thief has dominated my earbuds as well, pretty much since late summer 2020.
It should come as no surprise then that their forthcoming album, out next month, is my most anticipated release of the 2022 year.
3. Low: Hey What
Low’s Hey What was my #1 new album of 2021. It’s easy to see why the album earned a grammy nomination for best engineered album; the production is what elevated the songwriting to a truly new plane of existence for Low.
This album is so beautifully crafted, from the songwriting to the instrumentation to the production. “More” is a standout for me:
But it extends well beyond that song. It’s an album that must be listened to from beginning to end; Thou Shalt Not Shuffle! Yet there are plenty of standout tracks to tuck into your curated playlist as well, from “Days Like These” to “Disappearing” to “White Horses.”
4. Julia Jacklin: To Perth Before the Border Closes
Julia Jacklin’s 2020 Sub Pop Singles Club 7″ is the lone single to hit the list. Released as the world closed down due to Covid, To Perth Before the Border Closes fit a near perfect niche for me during this time.
The original lockdown coincided with a cross-country move for me. Not only did Covid force me into isolation in a strange new place, it kept me from building face-to-face connections with like-minded folk. It forced me to seek them out elsewhere, digitally, and adapt–like many of us did–to “long distance” friendships and connections that in many ways seemed closer and more intimate despite having never met these people in person. This 7″ single signified some of that for me.
5. Arab Strap: As Days Get Dark
Arab Strap’s first official new record in over 15 years is deliciously dark, brooding, and with an underlying sexual tension. In that sense, As Days Get Dark isn’t all too different thematically from prior releases. But 15 years has done the band well, and As Days Get Dark features complex themes, phenomenal songwriting, and stunning post production.
The first song I heard from the album is “Compersion Pt. 1” which is interesting as there is, as of yet, no follow up meaning it’s likely that Arab Strap will give us a Part 2 in the future.
Compersion, if you look it up, is all about finding joy in seeing a loved one have a romantic or sexual connection with someone else. Some define it as the “opposite of jealousy.”
6. The Mountain Goats: Dark in Here
I’ve been a longtime fan of The Mountain Goats, but there’s just something different about Dark in Here that makes it truly stand on its own within John Darnielle’s vast repertoire of work. To me it seems a bit more mature–older and wiser. Maybe it’s just me, now rooted in my 40s, seeking music that speaks to my age.
Either way, I like the progression. Here’s the album, in its entirety:
If you have a chance to get your hands on the indie exclusive blue vinyl version, you’ll find it’s quite the looker:
7. Damien Jurado: The Monster Who Hated Pennsylvania
Last year was the year Damien Jurado really took over my headphones with a handful of songs in my top 100, and he was a mainstay on my record player as well. In particular, his 2021 LP The Monster Who Hated Pennsylvania. I covered it back prior to its release, and what I don’t think I mentioned was that the two songs he released early on didn’t grip me quite as much as others he’s given us.
The record itself didn’t disappoint in the least, and those two grew on me while others like “Jennifer” and “Johnny Caravella” became instant favorites.
8. Kurt Vile: Speed, Sound, Lonely KV
I love Kurt Vile’s unique songwriting and vocal styling, and he doesn’t disappoint on on his 2021 EP Speed, Sound, Lonely (KVep). In fact, he gives us extra with the absolutely stunning “How Lucky” featuring the late John Prine.
9. Diane Cluck: Oh Vanille/Ova Nil
The final two albums absolutely dominated my summer playlist. Diane Cluck’s Oh Vanille/Ova Nil is a newer addition to my collection and my ears, though I’ve seen her name tossed around for over a decade.
This record will turn 20 next year, yet like many artists in the acoustic-indie-folk realm, the sound is quite timeless. Favorites include “All I Bring You is Love,” “Easy to Be Around,” and “Yr Million Sweetnesses.”
10. Mount Eerie: Lost Wisdom
I think Lost Wisdom may be an All-Time Top 5 record for me. “Voice in Headphones” floors me every time I hear it, and so many others pressed to this light blue wax are ones I circle back to again and again, like “Lost Wisdom” and “You Swan, Go On.”
It’s quite different from other Mount Eerie releases in that it’s almost entirely stripped down and acoustic, and while I’m quite the fan of Mount Eerie’s signature electrified sound, the pared back element is what makes this album so special.
Listen to the album in full above.
Summing Up 2021
What were your top spins of 2021? Feel free to drop a note in the comments.
How about this: what were your top albums released in 2021? I cover my best of 2021 list and share some of the records currently in the queue / frequenting my turntable on a new page I dub “On the Turntable” which you can view here: