2021 Catch-Up Explosion, Part 1

Despite our best efforts, we unfortunately didn’t review in real time every consequential 2021 release; thankfully, there’s still time to catch up on important missed albums, EPs, and singles. Our two 2021 Catch-Up Explosions (of which this is the first) differ somewhat from typical Review Explosions: some of these reviews are shorter than usual, and this time we won’t include sound quality scores (though rest assured, those will remain a site fixture). We won’t be able to cover every worthwhile 2021 release, though it’s possible to provide a reasonably comprehensive roundup of the year in music. The reviews are listed alphabetically, not by merit. Let’s begin!

black midi - Cavalcade: With their second album Cavalcade, British band black midi add elements of free jazz into their increasingly conceptual avant-prog, here as complex and uncompromising as ever. Listen with an open mind, and this masterful record will blow you away. 8/10

BROCKHAMPTON - ROADRUNNER: NEW LIGHT, NEW MACHINE: On their sixth album, hip-hop collective BROCKHAMPTON abandon the “boyband” presentation but add featured artists (among them JPEGMAFIA, A$AP Rocky, and Danny Brown) and outside producers. While they once incorporated personal traumas into catchy slices of near-perfect pop rap, ROADRUNNER mostly sounds like a dreary contractual obligation. Many of its songs are incohesive, poorly-transitioned jumbles of ideas with suffocatingly maximalist production (to put it bluntly, the drums sound like shit). There are a few highlights—the Charlie Wilson-featuring 90s R&B throwback “I’LL TAKE YOU ON,” “CHAIN ON”’s old-school beat, and parts of the hectic “BUZZCUT”—but ROADRUNNER’s almost calculated feel directly contradicts the SATURATION trilogy’s charm. It’s a frustrating listen, one that in its most basic aspects makes such obvious mistakes. 6/10

Burial/Blackdown - Shock Power Of Love EP: In the 2000s, Burial (William Bevan) brilliantly captured the malaise of cultural slowdown and the nighttime atmosphere of South London, “a city haunted not only by the past but by lost futures,” as the late cultural theorist Mark Fisher wrote. Now, Burial’s music captures the exhaustion of being Burial and feeling obligated to release each year a couple of new songs. On his new Shock Power Of Love split EP with Blackdown (whose Keysound label released it), Burial makes what he thinks can pass as Burial songs—ghostly vocal samples, loose dubstep drums, and vibey trance synths, all smothered with his signature reverb and static. Each about ten minutes long, “Dark Gethsemane” and “Space Cadet” follow his post-Untrue releases’ lengthier structures but lack meaningful movement and purpose. Shock Power Of Love isn’t awful—Blackdown’s short tracks are listenable albeit forgettable, and Burial’s pieces serve as fine background music—but I can’t say it’s worth your time or money. That said, I’m still looking forward to Burial’s upcoming Hyperdub release, Antidawn. 5/10

Pan Daijing - Jade: Berlin-based Chinese producer Pan Daijing’s Jade is a universe of its own, a disturbingly expansive black hole of glitches and ominous synth layers. When she sings, it’s in short, often repeated phrases that only cement the music’s unsettling nature. If you’re prepared for it, listening to Jade is a rewarding experience. 7/10

Erika de Casier - Sensational: You could understandably mistake Erika de Casier’s Sensational for a long-lost Y2K R&B record, right down to the intentionally low-res album cover; the Danish singer’s second solo LP is mellow and atmospheric, her voice soft and sensual but her breakup-themed lyrics fierce. Like that era’s best R&B singers, de Casier’s vocals simultaneously glide on top of and fit perfectly into the instrumentals. Sensational is an incredibly solid listen, its immersive 42 minutes passing by before you even realize it. 7/10

dltzk - Teen Week: Indisputably the year’s best hyperpop release, dltzk’s Teen Week EP is inventive, organized, catchy, and melodic—sonically dense and lyrically vulnerable, but executed with precision and intent in a genre often lacking it. Teen Week makes the case for dltzk as the first “post-hyperpop” artist; it’s so nuanced as to barely fit within hyperpop’s currently defined boundaries, and when the genre basically proved itself dead (that’s an essay for another time), they moved onto Frailty’s expansive electronic emo. 7/10

Kid Rock - “Don’t Tell Me How To Live”: On a messy rap rock song featuring Canadian band Monster Truck, 50-year-old Kid Rock yells about snowflake millennials, over-praised kids, fake news, and how every other musical act might as well be Milli Vanilli. The worst song of the year. (I gave up on trying to listen through his even newer single “Ala-Fuckin-Bama,” which is just as bad.) 1/10

jonatan leandoer96 - “Under Heaven”: jonatan leandoer96 (Yung Lean) once again teamed up with Dean Blunt for the slow, melancholic non-album single “Under Heaven.” What’s not to like? 8/10

METAFIVE - “The Paramedics”: While supergroup METAFIVE’s new album METAATEM was unfortunately cancelled, we still have its Leo Imai-penned single, “The Paramedics.” An unabashedly maximalist 80s-like new wave/synthpop song stuffed with guitars and synths yet kept together by Imai’s catchy hook, it leaves us imagining what the rest of the probably great METAATEM sounds like. 8/10

Overmono - “Diamond Cut”/“Bby”: Enjoyable elements of UK electronic duo Overmono’s new single “Diamond Cut”/“Bby” show promise but don’t coalesce into greatness. The former track smartly samples Erika de Casier’s “Space,” though its pleasant 2-step instrumental doesn’t really go anywhere; likewise, B-side “Bby”’s ambient techno textures don’t give the meandering beat any direction. There’s something here, though Overmono haven’t yet fully refined it. 6/10

Caroline Polachek - “Bunny Is A Rider”: Smooth bass lines, mellow synths, and an air of mystery define Caroline Polachek’s “Bunny Is A Rider,” three minutes of infectious art pop from the former Chairlift singer whose solo career gets increasingly interesting. 8/10

Vince Staples - Vince Staples: Over Kenny Beats’ breezy production, Long Beach rapper Vince Staples delivers descriptive verses on his 22-minute, 10-track self-titled album. Unfortunately, it sounds like wallpaper. 5/10

TWICE - Taste Of Love and Formula Of Love: O+T=<3: K-pop girl group TWICE maintained their prolific streak this year, with several releases including June’s Taste Of Love EP and November’s full-length Formula Of Love. K-pop is like candy—best in small but satisfying doses. As is, there’s a listenable EP and a decent albeit watered-down LP; pluck the more sonically substantive Formula’s seven or eight best songs, and you’ve got a very good K-pop/nu-disco mini-album. 6/10 (both releases)

The War On Drugs - I Don’t Live Here Anymore: Bland and formulaic heartland rock for flannel-clad millennials still lamenting the 2008 recession, sung by a guy who’s either referencing or wishing he was Bob Dylan. Aside from the excellent title track, you’re not missing anything. 5/10

(Malachi Lui is an AnalogPlanet contributing editor, music obsessive, avid record collector, and art enthusiast. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.)

jamesgarvin's picture

How does a 1/10 or a 5/10 constitute a "worthwhile release?"

Tom L's picture

"worthwhile" avoiding!

MalachiLui's picture

worthwhile in that it’s significant in one way or another… and significant isn’t always good!

Dual's picture

Amazing! Ordered the LP.

jamesgarvin's picture

I always thought "worthwhile" was short for "worth" your "while." I stand corrected.

dial's picture

Kid Rock (and he rocks) & TWOD are the only good and catchy tracks here. 0/10 for all the rest. Dylan uh ?!

bobcae's picture

I guess the War On Drugs doesn't appeal to the Lego set.

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