by Big Flowers
Quickly, forcefully and with no regret, another year passes into the rearview. Along the last 365 there’s an encyclopedia’s worth of new music to dive into, and after much digging and enjoying I’ve compiled this list of fifty-one albums, thirteen EP’s and two singles which I really liked. I was originally going to put them in backwards alphabetical by the last word in the artist’s name but I ended up giving it a hierarchy. An album being higher ranked on the list does not mean it’s objectively musically better than the entries below. As a journalist I have no power to strip an album of the regalia you as a listener give it. This is simply the order of how much I spent time listening to the album and conversely how much I enjoyed it. There’s metrics to this shit or something. Let’s get into it.
EPS & Singles:
15. chef chung — BALANCE
Continents removed from the motherland of hip-hop, in the heat of Melbourne, chef chung is looping his way towards moderation. Perfectly percussive among the elegant minimal instrumentation, by self production monicker lau shek wah. Sun baked and eroded by the breeze, chef’s brand of soul-imbued stream of consciousness drones in pockets after pockets, each something to lean into, taking your form like sand. BALANCE pokes at the idea of something deeply rooted in self preservation. At the same time, chef keeps individual experience at the forefront enough to warrant individual discovery for the listener. Laced with an experienced simplicity, BALANCE is a perfect all-around offering to crack into the expansive discography of the young artist.
Track Pick: holy water
14. RAMI – When I Say That, I Mean
A taste of an agrarian four on the floor, When I Say That, I Mean irrigates the now-less-occupied nightclubs with a hypnotic sonic hydration. Organic, bouncy and bite-sized enough to go repeater on, this project does what a dance record needs to do, and that is make you dance. RAMI’s penchant for budding, nuanced greenhouses of instrumental offerings alongside minimalist lyricism provides a flower bed for you to two-step into the sunset with. Notably, the visual counterpoint to the audio, directed by Ghostdrank, has my nomination for artwork of the year alongside a few others.
Track Pick: Catalina
13. Gabe ‘Nandez – Seven
Through the namesake amount of tracks ‘Nandez brought to the table on POW Recordings released Seven, there is an infinite shoulder tackle to anything complacent. Deep in every pocket on each of the beats is the ox-blooded, hoodie-up, balled-fist lyrical engine that Gabe possesses. While the rhythms are recognizable, the soundscapes remind of a city dissolving into the digital grid, something inexplicably current. Hustling with sophisticated fervor from Coupe Decale’s diffused breaker box of a beat to the opulent open-palm instrumental under Silhouette, ‘Nandez delivers a bullish breadbasket of raps and life.
Track Pick: Coupe Decale
12. Akari – danse
Intentionally constructed as an homage to the dancefloor, Akari brings the 5-track danse into technicolor spotlight for an impromptu traipse through the sonic architecture of a neon and powdered night out too late. Ducking, bending and snapping back into place, the sawtooth bass lines bite into your tapping feet, beckoning something of a more full-body experience. Ornamented with pitch-dropped original-disco vocalizations that act as master of ceremony, dripping with synthesized industrial sexuality, danse is a mystical gaze into the night life that dissipated during pandemic era.
Track Pick: dust
11. Jay Trent – Polarity
Polarity is going to be the only package of music you can find on Jay Trent’s bandcamp page: 3 songs, clocking in at a total of seven minutes, but weighing a lot more. Directly approached, Trent’s modus operandum seems to be akin to lyrical behemoths like Wayne: show up, bar out and do it again. There’s not more than fifteen seconds at a time that are relegated to one flow or rhyme scheme, as Trent beats his chest confidently beginning his ascent to something seemingly promised, but effectively carved from the marble. Smooth in some ways, jagged in others, Polarity is a little diamond among many pebbles. Personally can’t wait for a more full-length offering from Trent, but I’m happy to.
Track Pick: Like a Killer
10. ZekeUltra – Black Wednesday
One of my favorite rappers of the new age returns with a short, turbulent entry in his evolving discography with ZekeUltra’s Black Wednesday. With production that is often ambiguously constructed in the sense of genre, swaying from reverb-washed post pop ballad to a jungle in iridescent mid 80’s soundscape, the only ubiquity is the continual lyrical progression of the emcee. With novel approaches like the drawled, muffled banter of I-95, mimicking the tunnel-brain you get on a long drive, Zeke proves again that he is not only talented, but dedicated to pushing the cutting edge beyond where he sees it.
Track Pick: Go Away
9. Shane Arnold – No Shade on the East
Shane Arnold seems too young to be able to put together something this layered, deep and dynamic, yet currently open in my browser is No Shade in the East, which is compact layered, mile deep and hyperdynamic. The album feels like ambling through a desert, wondering if UFO’s are real as you watch the moon rise among the heat of the day. There’s something so subtly sci-fi about the way this album sits, something that you can recognize but nothing you’ve quite heard before. The nuance in production is the hallmark of the tape to me, and often times Shane’s lyrics are time & place observations of a young life, but others show his true proficiency for capturing emotion and advance.
Track Pick: redshift
8. Wakefield – BUFFALO
A man dedicated to giving more flowers to his city, Wakefield enters stage with a metropolitan mosaic of each backroad in Buffalo. He channels every memory that’s still running past the loose hydrants over the pot-holed exterior of the crust of 716 as he gives another novel example of what Buffalo hip-hop sounds like (and no it’s not always Griselda). Bejeweled with ornate sentiment of neighbors, friends and family, accompanied by the same on production and locution, BUFFALO calls out to the heartstrings of home. More and more refined with each passing, Wakefield is a creative that will not chase you down, he’s here when you’re ready, over a glass of wine and a free night in the city.
Track Pick: Valley
7. VRITRA – Dark Dark, High Contrast
No matter the year, there’s no predicting what you’re about to get when you press play on a VRITRA album. This rotation, we’re met with a clubhouse uppercut of an acid-tab soundwave to the jaw. With synth hallways that both begin and end with Odd Future alum VRITRA, there’s something eerily off-putting about some of the interiors of DD,HC but every time your skin crawls, so does the drum and bass right back to guide your feet to a liberated stomping. Ebbing and ebbing and ebbing some more before flowing, Dark Dark, High Contrast is a waterfall of existential electronica that will likely leave you purple.
Track Pick: Mirror!
6. Soul Blind – Third Chain
A breadcrumb along the developing discography of the Hudson Valley’s pride, Third Chain proves there’s nothing formulaic about what Soul Blind is doing. With riffs that are both inventive and still wedged within a missing piece of your nostalgia, the young group bludgeons their way into a record deal with Other People Records, setting up for what would hopefully be a full length that removes the only inhibition of Third Chain, which would be its brevity. A driving, tye-dyed fireball of modern rock, Soul Blind continues their climb.
Track Pick: Phantom Pool
5. PONTIAC – STARCHIEF/STOCKO
These are some of the only singles I’ve included on this list, I’m not usually the biggest fan of single song releases, but when a song truly stands out enough on its own, it’s something remarkable. What I find so monumental about PONTIAC is his ability to create one unitary captivating song that’s not only complete, but contemporary. Borrowing influence from every era of hip-hop, but creating things that are so emotionally now, STARCHIEF and STOCKO both champion some of the most inventive self-production of the year. This is hand in hand with the hurricane of tongue-and-cheek reference, wordplay and distortion that comes contracted with PONTIAC’s microphone. Burning across the PCH, from then to now, demonstrating an observed and informed.
4. Internal – Primal State
When it comes to powerviolence, extremism is not one of those things that always breaks the mold. This is a genre that’s existed purely off of its extremism since its inception decades ago. What Internal continues to do with its’ brand of powerviolence is tear further into the mortal coil with barbed, rusted and unpredictable soundscapes that are so far removed from engineer-centric hardcore that it feels like a live show. Internal is a solo project from an incredibly decorated member of the New Bedford hardcore scene, and it’s evident through its crisp, intentional construction, masterfully mixed and left in its bathing rage.
Track Pick: It’s not one of those albums, it’s the whole thing.
3. dreamcastmoe – After All This
A lush, verdant day in the clouds, After All This follows in suit with dreamcastmoe’s proven penchant for making head-bob certified neo-R&B anthems. With production that almost sounds like it could be coming out of a Sega, and melodies that got lost somewhere in the past, making their appearance with grace here and now, dreamcastmoe is a complete package for the humble and honest singer. There’s something so tranceful to moe’s voice, as he guides you along the radiant, hip-sway instrumentals. This project is definitely short enough to run a good three, four times at once.
Track Pick: You Had Better Deliver
2. Liv.e – CWTTY+
Few albums have (in my opinion) changed so much about music between cover and tracklist the way Liv.e’s 2020 project Couldn’t Wait to Tell You… did. Similar to ginger, CWTTY+ cleanses your palate, delivers just enough trimmings from the original to give you another orbit around that spiritually prodigal experience of hearing liv.e for the first time. Wrapped in lace, yet vibrating beyond the concept of form, CWTTY+ expands one of the most necessary musical worlds to encapsulate even more intimacy, even more enriching of soul and infinitely more Liv.e.
Track Pick: Winter Songs
1. Liiight – For The Times I Wear My Weighted Blanket Like A Cloak; or, Memorabilia of Loss
Miraculously succinct, broad, descriptive and omnipresent, Liiight boils everything they’re incredible at into this diamond among the dust still settling, left from other gemstones. Releasing multiple projects in 2021, mostly full length offerings, this song was easy to see taken by the current of a Twitter-driven promotion cycle. However, this could be the most complete, full and human work I’ve heard from Liiight so far. Clocking in at just under five minutes, but feeling like ten, FTTIWMWBLACoMOL cycles in between ambience, aggression, ambivalence, ambedo in a whirlpool race to no finish. Looping and undulating among itself, with velvet vocals juxtaposing serrated lyricism, comfort is abandoned in the folds of the opening guitar riffs. Honest, bare, and radiant, Liiight is both demanding and shying to be seen.