2021 YEAR IN REVIEW: Sweeping up after the party, final lists, and 21 of our favorite things
10 FAVORITE EPS AND SHORT (<30 mins.) LPS
Our annual appreciation of artists who get the fuck in and get the fuck out.
10 ALAN VEGA / After Dark (25 minutes)
Subtitled "A Late Night Rock 'n Roll Session with Alan Vega, Ben Vaughn, Barb Dwyer, and Palmyra Delran," but I'm thinking there's not a lot by Vega, or his legendary band Suicide, that was recorded in the light of day. Although Vega's been dead for five years, this posthumously released late-night session amounted to a mysterious, all too brief, cruise through the bowels of New York led by the ultimate nocturnal tour guide.
09 A PLACE TO BURY STRANGERS / Hologram EP
Since the Vega album was so short, you could just let this one follow and extend the New York late-night vibe for another 23-minutes, albeit in a more menacing part of town.
08 ALABAMA SLIM / The Parlor (30 minutes)
This gentleman caller of the blues might've only stopped by for a cup of coffee this year, but the half-hour porch visit featured a sublime, laid-back form of the blues that went down easy, even when he was taking jabs at Trump on the hilarious "Forty Jive."
07 NEIGHBORHOOD BRATS / Confines of Life (28 minutes)
California punk done right, with enough gems throughout to highly recommend, from opening killer single "Who Took the Rain" all the way to a cover of Joan Jett's "I Want You," with some biting social commentary in between.
06 WANDA JACKSON / Encore (25 minutes)
Speaking of Joan Jett, she co-produced octogenarian Wanda Jackson's Encore this year and it proves the rockabilly might age, but it don't mean you're gonna keep a "Good Girl Down," to quote the album's thematic centerpiece. There's still a honky tonk girl in this music and it's a treat to hear.
05 ABBIE OZARD / Let's Play Pretend EP
Did she breakthrough this year? I don't track such things closely, but she should have. This is a short little EP, clocking in with four sweet & creamy pop songs in about 13-minutes, highlighted by the should've been smash "True Romance," which was as pure a radio hit as the fates let us have this year.
04 DECENDENTS / 9th & Walnut (26 minutes)
This won't make sense, but this is material from the earliest days of the Descendents (pre-Milo) that was actually recorded years later in the early 00s. But last year, the band's brainy vocalist, Milo Auckerman, added his vocals to the tracks and now we have a pretty amazing little record packed with delights to remind us what made the band special in the first place.
03 THE DIABOLICAL LIBERTIES / Double Drop: Birds of Paradise (30 minutes)
These Bristol oddballs have a wry sense of humor as indicated by song titles like "On the Third Planet from This Sun It's a Thursday" and the listener's warning "Couldn't Afford the Sax Player," but that's not all. They make the most of their minimalistic pop songs that sound like they were recored inside of a meat locker.
02 DUCKS LTD. / Modern Fiction (30 minutes)
Toronto is living the 80's jangle-pop dream right now and that's OK. As long as it sounds like this, that is. If Ducks Ltd. had been born forty years earlier they would've sounded right at home next to any number of classic indie singles of the day, in particular our #8 song of the year, "18 Cigarettes."
01 THE TUBS / Names EP
Four jangly gems in 11-minutes, so no wonder I played this EP more than any other this year. It sounds mopey in the best way, like it was birthed of introverts for introverts. The songs seem to specifically address the mood of these troubled times, but I have a feeling they always feel this way.
15 FAVORITE COVER SONGS
Just singing someone else's song doesn't mean shit, you've got to do something with it.
15 JASON RINGENBERG / "Christ the Lord is Risen Today" (Traditional Hymn)
I was born and raised in a Lutheran family, so by the time I was ten I was well versed in the Sunday hymnal because Lutherans like to fucking sing. I had my favorite hymns, too, and hearing some of them was my favorite part of the service. This one was in my personal Top 10 because it had an almost sarcastic amount of "hallelujahs" throughout. I love how Jason trots this out mid-album without explanation and gives it the "Full Scorchers" treatment. He's not a great singer, really, but that's the point of hymns. If we all sing them together and blend the bad and good voices, we all rise together.
14 DEAN WAREHAM / "Duchess" (Scott Walker)
Taking on Scott Walker songs is always a challenge since the originals are so distinctive, but Dean's up to the task on this inspired choice from Walker's fourth album from 1969. It works mainly because, like Walker, Wareham knows to let the song do the work. His delivery lets this buried gem shine like it deserves to.
13 JESSE MALIN / "Crawling Back to You" (Tom Petty)
Jesse could tour with the remaining Heartbreakers and do a pretty good job filling in if he was asked, so it's no surprise that he pulls off Petty's Wildflowers gem with ease. In fact, he takes the somewhat observational vocal of Petty's original and finds every ounce of pathos in it, taking the song to a more desperate place in the process.
12 DESCENDENTS / "Glad All Over" (Dave Clark 5)
This classic 60s British invasion pop song positively thrives when converted to punk pace, thereby trimming a minute from an already lean original.
11 DELVON LAMARR ORGAN TRIO / "Careless Whisper" (Wham!)
You might expect a novelty here, which is one of my least favorite attention-getting ploys, but not the case. Delvon clearly connects with the stealthy melody that I admit to overlooking when Wham! first released it back in 1984. To my defense, we were beaten over the head with the song constantly back then, approximately three times and hour all day every day, so I learned to shut off my receptors (a talent I retain to this very day). The DLO3 have done the impossible and resuscitated the track for me anew.
10 CHA WA FT. ALVIN YOUNGBLOOD HART / "Masters of War" (Bob Dylan)
Message received, and it's a powerful one. Dylan's classic makes its way down to the forgotten people of New Orleans post-Katrina and this slow-burning, mournful version oozes Bayou character in a way that Dylan himself would surely understand. Oh mercy.
09 MICHAEL STIPE / "Sunday Morning" (The Velvet Underground)
R.E.M. had a strong track record of doing VU covers, and Stipe's affection for the band (and Lou Reed later) is well-documented, so you knew he wouldn't take a half-ass stab at this one when called upon. It almost seems too obvious of a choice for him, but it turns out it was made for the more grainy quality of his current voice, which I absolutely love.
08 LOS LOBOS / "Sail On, Sailor" (The Beach Boys)
Los Lobos put out a great collection of covers this year and many of them could've made this list. Some of the songs were sourced straight from the neighborhood (Jaguars, Lalo Guerrero, Willie Bobo), others from the other side of L.A. (Jackson Browne, Buffalo Springfield, War, etc). I love how the album alternates between the two worlds. I was ultimately won over by the band's take on the Beach Boys' "Sail On, Sailor" thanks to a perfect vocal from David Hidalgo and great harmonies behind him. This is what doing a cover is all about.
07 CHRISSIE HYNDE / "Don't Fall Apart on Me Tonight" (Bob Dylan)
The Dylan tribute machine will never stop, but thankfully we've benefited from some good ones in recent years (my favorites are Blonde on the Tracks by Emma Swift from 2020, Willie Nile's Positively Bob from 2017, and Bryan Ferry's Dylanesque from 2007). We didn't really need another one, but Chrissie Hynde is allowed to do anything she wants with her still amazing set of pipes, and she does knowing versions of nine gems on Standing in the Doorway. My personal highlight is this epic take on Dylan's Infidels classic, a song perfectly suited to the natural crack in Chrissie's aching voice.
06 MONSTER MAGNET / "Mr. Destroyer" (Poo-Bah)
I didn't know the original until I heard the cover, sadly, but I love what Monster Magnet did on their pandemic-themed all-covers LP, A Better Dystopia. They took the end of the world and had a fucking blast with it, partying and carousing until their last note was played, uncovering and celebrating some lost psyche-rock classics in the process.
05 JOANNA CONNOR / "Bad News" (Luther Allison)
We wrote about this one when we named it our #26 song of 2021:
"Bad News" is a Luther Allison song, selected for Joanna's amazing new album in tribute to the legendary bluesman who died prematurely at 57. Ushered in and out by bells tolling—a nice AC/DC-esque production touch—and what happens between the bells is truly something special. It's both mournful and uplifting, and embodies everything the blues are all about.
04 WAXAHATCHEE / "Light of a Clear Blue Morning" (Dolly Parton)
We wrote about this one when we named it our #96 song of 2021:
Waxahatchee's transcendent cover of Dolly Parton's "Light of a Clear Blue Morning" is the song we all needed in 2021. It is hopeful, the start a new day, or a chance for redemption. Dolly has a way of tapping into the essence of the everyday lives of normal people with her songs and this is another example of her natural songwriting gift. That said, Katie's version now sounds definitive to these ears, making this one of the best covers of the year. Play it on repeat for comfort. Play it when you need a new look at life.
03 TOM JONES / "Talkin' Reality Television Blues" (Todd Snider) (TIE)
03 TOM JONES / "Lazarus Man" (Terry Callier) (TIE)
"Talkin' Reality Television Blues" was named our #73 song of 2021, but we've always felt that "Lazarus Man" was its equal, especially when it comes to being a brilliant cover. Terry Callier's original is amazing and will remain the definitive version, but there's room for another take on the song and the still vital Welshman delivers a 9-minute epic on his startlingly entertaining new LP, Surrounded By Time. This is Tom in total commitment mode (his specialty). A cover can bring an under-valued song back to the mainstream and that's what happens here. To say a song about Lazarus, a man who was literally raised from the dead (if you believe the hype), is back from the grave, is pushing the irony meter a bit, but at least more people will be exposed to this great song. Fair trade.
02 LA MARISOUL / "Detonantes (Little Triggers)" (Elvis Costello)
From the reissue of Elvis Costello's This Year's Model, the same album done in Spanish. An inspired idea with lots of great tracks. I will likely play it as much as I play Elvis's original album! I love this version of "Little Triggers" by La Santa Cecilia lead singer La Marisoul, one of my favorite vocalists on the planet. She takes the familiar and makes it completely fresh again. Triumphant even.
01 LADY BLACKBIRD / "It'll Never Happen Again" (Tim Hardin)
We wrote about this one when we named it our #28 song of 2021:
Lady's take on Tim Hardin's 1966 nugget "It'll Never Happen Again," from his debut record Tim Hardin 1, is one of many jaw-dropping covers on the amazing Black Acid Soul. I thought it would be easier just to abandon this list and refer you once again to the album and call it a day. That said, when I first heard the song, time stopped. It's one of those breathtaking moments that I'll never forget. Every moment, sheer perfection.
SLEEPERS: 10 OTHER ALBUMS WE LOVE THAT GOT LEFT BEHIND
They don't get listened to all the time, but they do serve a distinct purpose.
10 ELEVENTH DREAM DAY / Since Grazed
The cover tells you what you're in for. A slow, contemplative affair best taken when you've got the time to settle down for a while and really listen. I didn't do that very well this year due to attention problems, so I short-changed this revered Chicago band's new record. Then, when all the lists were done and written, I sat back with it at its own pace and realized what I'd been missing: a well-crafted, low-key rock album with some great songs and killer guitar work throughout. So it grazed me initially, but it hit me full-on later. Better late than never.
09 MATT BERRY / The Blue Elephant
I'm a little wary of actors who dabble in music, but I think this is a case of a musician becoming an actor. The acting has gotten most of the attention, especially Berry's turn as Douglas Reynholm in The IT Crowd, which is madcap defined, but his music is serious shit. Witness the Elephant Man on the cover of his new album, his 9th! It's a throwback album, blending his late-60s album collection into one ambitious suite of songs. It's all good, but best taken in one sitting, just like all of his appearances on The IT Crowd.
08 ALLISON RUSSELL / Outside Child
Not to be confused with the great Alice Russell, this Russell was one-half of Birds of Chicago until this year. It appears we have a solo artist from now on based on her debut record, which was a major step forward on all levels. It moves like a long, exaggerated stretch or a deep, soul-cleansing breath. It's like a warm blanket or a seat next to a fire. I don't need it all the time, but when I do, there's no substitute. This record is autumn to me, a cold chill in the air and cup of coffee in hand (and I don't even drink much coffee, but I might now).
07 THE WAR ON DRUGS / I Don't Live Here Anymore
The War On Drugs isn't so much songs for me as it is a consistent relaxing vibe. Yeah, they have some great songs, too, but when I play the band's music I listen for an hour at a time or more. They move in space well and adapt to whatever you're doing.
06 JOY CROOKES / Skin
Yes, another impressive soulful record from the UK. They seem to have a never-ending supply lately, which means not all end up getting the attention they deserve. If you like Arlo Parks' new record (and everyone did) this should be your next stop. Assuming you have #2 on this list, of course.
05 YOO DOO RIGHT / Don't Think You Can Escape Your Purpose
From earlier this year...
I get as much joy from a band that knows how to mount a total noise assault as I do from a band that specializes in three-minute pop songs. The physical imperative with the former is discretion. I simply cannot waste my eardrum life on just any band with amps set to stun. Pop songs come and go quickly and can be assessed at almost any volume, but the orchestrated attacks of volume merchants like Montreal's Yoo Doo Right tend to demand more of your attention and time. By design, they require ample volume to get their message across. Many songs on Purpose take a while before the music swells from beautifully quiet to dizzyingly loud. You need volume to appreciate both, too. If you're approximating the sound of a black hole being turned inside out, there's no time for restraint. It's all or nothing. And it's not something easily accomplished either. Most bands can't pull it off, but Yoo Doo Right doo it right. It's right there in their moniker, after all. I mean, they're named after an epic six-hour jam by influential German group Can (an "edited" 20-minute version can be found on their 1969 debut, Monster Movie), so that fact alone might clue you in as to what to expect. That said, despite allusions to Krautrock throughout, this is no Can tribute act. The record has moments of stunning beauty surrounding the walls of ascending sonic majesty (like landscaping around an ancient castle!). What makes this worthy of my eardrum time is that each song stands on its own merits while simultaneously contributing to a cumulative weight of the project. There's one crushing cataclysm after the next and it's thrilling to hear it unfold (I would argue it gets better and better as it progresses; another great quality). So, if you are so inclined, and you likely know if you are already, don't snack on this one like you would a simple pop record. Eat it in one gluttonous sitting. This is a piece of sonic art and is best imbibed as such. And don't forget the volume knob. It's your best friend.
04 SOPHIA KENNEDY / Monsters
From earlier this year...
Sophia is true original, which is a quality I admire. She's one of those singular artists who defy just about all descriptions. That's not a recipe for mass acceptance in most cases, so it's no wonder she has not found widespread notoriety just yet—perhaps that's because there's no one place for her music to reside. As I listened to this album many artists came to mind as possible reference points, sometimes only for a moment or two, sometimes longer: the hear the adventurousness of Annie Clark (St. Vincent), the unbridled creative freedom of Fiona Apple, the bizarre theatricality of Peter Gabriel, the entrancing word art of Laurie Anderson, the crooning purity of Petula Clark. There's some Broadway and some contemporary pop, cabaret and vocal stylings worthy of a army USO routine; there are hints of prog, pop, hip hop, jazz, and electronic music as well. Amazingly, it all somehow holds together. Sophia, from Baltimore—now living in Berlin (which explains some things, but not all)—comes from a film and theater background, which is obvious, and her songs combine inputs from multiple sources at the same time. While it requires an adjustment of expectations and an open mind from the unsuspecting listener, I found the whole sorted affair turns into an addiction over time. You're going to need to give it time. A few listens minimum. My first was a hard NO. My second an intrigued MAYBE. From then on, all YES YES YES.
03 GOAT GIRL / On All Fours
This album was on my Top 50 working list all year, only to be pushed off at the very end. I still regret it. Mainly because they are doing it all right. They put a great debut record in 2018. Then they took their time with their second, a smart move. When they emerged with On All Fours, everything was either different or better. Better songs, better execution, more diverse, more adventurous, better performances, better recording. I mean it: everything.
02 CELESTE / Not Your Muse
Totally unforgivable! And that's coming from a self-appointed Priest! In retrospect, the US born/UK raised Celeste deserves a spot in our Top 50. I just listened to the record again, with performances to die for all over the place, and realized my mistake. If you liked Arlo Parks, Joy Crookes, Yola, Dominique Fils-Aimé, or even Greentea Peng this year, put this on your must list (not your muse list, though). It's modern soul with tinges of several other genres (jazz, blues, pop, lounge, to name a few) and it all comes together spectacularly. (Note: In the bargain, you even get her Christmas song, "A Little Love," now a staple around the holidays in the UK.)
01 TOUMANI DIABATÉ / Kôrôlén
From earlier this year...
There's a long history of rock bands collaborating with symphony orchestras. My first exposure to it was The London Symphony Orchestra with Ian Anderson playing the music of Jethro Tull (A Classic Case from 1985, which I still enjoy to this day). What could be cooler than Jethro Tull symphonies, after all?! (Your sarcastic response not required at this point.) Many other artists have done the same, from Deep Purple back in the late 60s to Kiss in the early 21st century. Clearly, whoring yourself out to lowbrow rock bands is a lucrative business which pays the bills as long as you can stomach the loss of artistic integrity. No orchestra is more aware of this exchange than the aforementioned LSO, which will cut a record with almost anyone with a fat bank account. But that's not necessarily a bad thing even though it will surely tweak purist sensibilities who could deem such a pursuit a pandering waste of time. It could also collect some intrigued new listeners in the process. I applaud the maneuver, especially when it leads to a culture of musical partnerships that knock down barriers between genres, creating something new and sometimes uniquely beautiful in the process. It has also led artists in other genres to do the same thing. The most successful LSO collaboration this year was their partnership with Floating Points and Pharoah Sanders on this years Promises album, which everyone has fallen in love with, but I only liked. However, with no slight to that record at all, I must say I am even more impressed with their support of African kora master, Toumani Diabaté. It's a magical night (recorded over ten years ago and only now released!) with Diabaté commanding the crowded stage with his virtuosic mastery of his instrument. Only occasionally does the orchestra step on Toumani's performance, but for the most part the sheer spellbinding beauty of his intricate playing comes shining through.
10 FAVORITE ALBUM TITLES
What's in a name? Perhaps a few more sold records.
10 AROOJ AFTAB / Vulture Prince
This title could describe the musician Prince, especially if you've read Sinead O'Connor's memoir this year. He sounded like a real charmer back in the day. Or, the title could describe Prince Andrew, good friend of consummate gentleman Jeffrey Epstein and lying sack of shit. Likely, it's something different altogether. But it is a title that makes you speculate as to its meaning which makes it intriguing.
09 LOST GIRLS / Menneskekolleltivet
The Germans are fucking nuts. My mother was one, so I know. The entire harsh, jagged language should be dismantled and sold for parts. That said, there's something visually intimidating about one of those monstrous German words, piled up and soldered together, that has some kind of bizarre appeal to me. Not since Tom Waits put out "Kommienezuspadt" has a title looked so menacing when typed out carefully. Hit the space bar once in a while, you crazy Krauts!
08 ELIZABETH KING / Living in the Last Days
Shocker: I'm not religious. I openly cheer for the end of humanity when zealots warn that the end of days is upon us. When the date inevitably passes, I go back to listening to as many records as possible until a new doomsday scenario presents itself. That said, Elizabeth King is religious, and there are few people as convincing at being religious than her. So her claim seems to hold more weight. She's not picking a final date after visiting some burning bush. She's just looking at the Bible and comparing it to our world and making an educated conclusion. And it seems the most plausible one of its kind right now.
07 MONSTER MAGNET / A Better Dystopia
I really, really hope the last days on Earth are quick and painless. Or, if there has to be some pain and suffering involved I hope we can still crank a whole album of Monster Magnet covers of mostly obscure psyche-rock songs as we boil in our own excrement or are forced to buy off-brand aluminum foil or something equally belittling. Monster Magnet's "A Better Dystopia" sounds a lot like an election promise during an apocalypse and it'll get my vote every time.
06 PORTRAYAL OF GUILT / Christfucker
Christ's mother, a virgin, was reportedly impregnated via immaculate conception, so Motherfucker didn't apply obviously. But did Jesus ever get laid back in the day? At the Bethlehem High prom perhaps? If not, he did eventually choose a profession rife with sexual euphemisms all centered around sporting, or laying down, wood. So maybe then? Or did he get "crossed" without so much as a canyon yodel? Either way, this album promises to dish and I hope it gives us the down and dirty.
05 WILLIAM PARKER / Mayan Space Station
As if the Mayans hadn't already cornered the market on intrigue, they now have a space station, too? And is it accessed by climbing up the Temple of McCauley Kukulcán? Totally unfair!
04 ANTHONY JOSEPH / The Rich Are Only Defeated When Running For Their Lives
You ain't gonna get any argument that this title is unfair from about 99.2% of all humanity, which is why it gets on this list. Life's a popularity contest after all.
03 DEAN WAREHAM / I Have Nothing to Say to the Mayor of L.A.
People are always talking about great first lines of novels, but not so much about great first lines of albums. Here's one that made me buy the record after I first read it. I just had to know what followed. And if that isn't the purpose of a title, I don't know what is.
02 SHAME / Drunk Tank Pink
They paint drunk tanks (holding cells) a shockingly annoying color of pink to discourage frequent fliers, so this is a perfect album title for a wild band of soused British rockers. If Mayberry has painted Otis's cell pink, perhaps he would've gone into AA instead of ambling into the courthouse each night, enabled by the local law enforcement community.
01 LADY BLACKBIRD / Black Acid Soul
Lady Blackbird's phenomenal album did everything right this year. Our #2 favorite album. #1 best album cover. #1 best cover song. And now the #1 album title. Simply, this is a title that makes you buy the record unheard. If you title an album Black Acid Soul, this puppy is going to buy it immediately to hear what such a thing sounds like. That it turned out to be an all-time classic record only makes the payoff that much sweeter.
10 FAVORITE SONG TITLES
Why not make your song even more memorable?
10 PARQUET COURTS / "Walking at a Downtown Pace"
A song that walks at a downtown pace. I want the definition of said pace to be clarified. And if it has musical accompaniment, even better.
09 NICK CAVE & WARREN ELLIS / "Balcony Man"
There are so many potential stories you can tell based on the title "Balcony Man." Is it a movie house Lothario, like the one in the Drifters' "Saturday Night at the Movies"? Is it a Phantom of the Opera-type figure? Or a Jack the Ripper type? Or is he a pervert, pleasuring himself and raining his excretions on unsuspecting patrons below? (That sounds like the most plausible one from Nick.) The possibilities are endless. Who is the Balcony Man?
08 ENDLESS BOOGIE / "Incompetent Villains of 1968"
Now, this might be a YouTube compilation highlighting the foibles of stupid criminals caught on surveillance cameras, but back in 1968, you could only hear of such things on the news, through rumors and innuendo, or not at all. It allowed embellishment and encouraged storytelling. Nothing is intriguing nowadays, but this song title hearkens back to a more innocent time.
07 CUB SCOUT BOWLING PINS / "Funnel Cake Museum"
Now this is a museum I might visit. By far, the most artistic of all the carnival snacks, the funnel cake is downright Jackson Pollock-y in construction, intentionally haphazard, but when dusted with powdered sugar, undeniably beautiful. The masters of the craft should be celebrated and revered like the artists they are.
06 THE DIABOLICAL LIBERTIES / "Couldn't Afford the Sax Player"
There's no sax player on the song and it could use one, or should I say it would benefit from one, but the song is still good as is. But I do appreciate truth in advertising. Although if they didn't mention it, nobody would know.
05 JOHN MURRY / "Oscar Wilde (Came Here to Make Fun of You)"
I've read the lyrics and the song isn't about Oscar Wilde per se, but it is a title that makes sense when you think of the legend of the man. Any song that prompts you to spend a couple hours getting yourself up to speed on a famed Irish writer has accomplished something. Not that I really did that. I don't have that kind of time.
04 THE EXBATS / "I Don't Trust Myself Around Jesus"
We need to get Portrayal of Guilt and The Exbats together. I think we're on to something. I guess assuming this title is sexual is presumptuous, but that's where my mind goes first. The guy was pretty handsome in all standard depictions, so it's not a stretch that a young lady would be so enamored. I'm sure he had his pick of the ladies or the fellas, whichever way he went (perhaps both). There's also a non-sexual approach to this song if you're so interested, but I am not.
03 TOO MUCH JOY / (tie) "Uncle Watson Wants to Think" & "Oliver Plunkett's Head"
Too Much Joy brought the titles this year and since I couldn't decide which one was better, I made it a tie. I've said it before, the title doesn't have to be flashy to make the song good, but it is another way into a song, so it doesn't hurt to go with something that turns heads. Especially, if you have a naturally demented sense of humor. Why does Uncle Watson want to think? And what is it about Oliver Plunkett's head? We have a need to know.
02 THE FELICE BROTHERS / "Jazz on the Autobahn"
I would listen to this song regardless of genre. If this was a remix of a Kraftwerk song, I'd listen. If it was a Drake rap, I would listen (even though we all know it would suck). If it was a Charles Lloyd piano etude, I would listen. It's one of those songs you hope and pray is really good because you'd hate to see the title wasted on something lame. Thankfully, no worries here.
01 AMYL AND THE SNIFFERS / "I Don't Need a Cunt (Like You to Love Me)"
Genius title. Clever placement of parentheses for double-take impact. It rewards close inspection. It's a sharp dagger that doesn't disguise its intent or limit its use to football-loving blokes. Amy Taylor uses more "cunts" than Sleaford Mods after a dozen pints, so it's a title that announces with gusto who you're dealing with. .
10 FAVORITE LONG SONGS (8:00+)
To quote Jethro Tull, life is a long song.
10 CHUCK JOHNSON / "Red Branch Bell" (10:45)
Chuck Johnson's steel guitar opus, The Cinder Grove, is as organically beautiful as a redwood tree in Muir Woods. All his songs are long, but this one uses its time so well, you'll never even check your watch.
09 ENDLESS BOOGIE / "The Offender" (22:29)
Kudos to the writer who commented that this might be the greatest 22-minute album-opening track of all-time. Slim company, indeed, but this New York-based band knows how to live up to their band name. When you boogie like this, it should be endless.
08 JOAN AS POLICEWOMAN, TONY ALLEN, DAVE OKUMU / "The Barbarian" (11:45)
Tony Allen has played drums on more 10-minute-plus songs in his life than pretty much any human who ever existed on this planet. His work as drummer for Fela Kuti's band in the 70s alone would put him in line for a Long Song Lifetime Achievement Award. Thankfully, he's one of the few musicians you can listen to that long and still not get enough.
07 WILLIAM PARKER / "Mayan Space Station" (14:43)
Jazz is particularly well-suited to the long track, so this, it could be argued, is cheating. But this is a track so loaded with guitar power, it seems fair to include it.
06 TYLER, THE CREATOR / "Wilshire" (8:36)
It's about time the rap genre breaks into the long song category. And it's for no other reason than the song is compelling for the entire duration.
05 THE FELICE BROTHERS / "We Shall Live Again" (8:17)
The new Felice Brothers record uses humor to skirt around some heavy shit and this is the perfect example of taking on our own extinction with tongue-in-cheek. If you believe in an afterlife, you're all good, nothing should faze you. The song will forever be famous for one line: From St. Francis of Assisi to the fans of AC/DC, we will all live again. So even if you were on the "Highway to Hell" it sounds like living again may be agnostic to belief. Sweet!
04 TAYLOR SWIFT / "All Too Well [10 Minute Version]" (10:12)
A little backstory: For some reason, Taylor has been a loyal Pickled Priest reader for some time now. She frequently sends encouragement and alerts us to typos, which we appreciate, but she's also a little defensive when it comes to her own work. She badgered us to put folklore into our Top 10 last year, so we did just to appease her. Now, realizing she's won every major award but a Pickled Priest "Long Song of the Year" distinction, she pored through mountains of old studio tape and found a marathon version of Red's "All Too Well" just so she could check that off her bucket list. She even put "[10 Minute Version]" in brackets so as to draw our attention like we're stupid or something. So here you go Tay, your coveted spot on the list. We couldn't give you #1 though since it's technically an older song, a rule you now know all too well.
03 JACKSON BROWNE / "A Song For Barcelona" (8:37)
Jackson is still writing good songs in case you're wondering. Still thoughtful and socially conscious, too. This one is about the restorative powers of being someplace where nobody knows you and you don't know them. It's distinctly Jackson Browne which is a good quality.
02 ANGEL BAT DAWID & THA BROTHAHOOD / "Black Family" (9:39)
If you want to hear a singer totally channeling from another spiritual dimension live onstage, spend some time with the most challenging, riveting, and mind-blowing live record of the year, Angel Bat Dawid & The Brothahood's Live. Warning: it's not anything you've heard before, so give it time. This song, no matter your reaction, is unforgettable.
01 TOM JONES / "Lazarus Man" (9:11)
I mentioned this in our covers section above. It's an accomplishment if you can pull off a cover of a great artist's song (Terry Callier), but to pull off a nine-minute cover of a great artist's song is truly worth giving it the Long Song of the Year Award.
MINI MIXTAPE: OUR FAVORITE SHORT SONGS (1:59-)
26 Songs in 43 Minutes...Go! (Not ranked)
26 RODRIGO AMARANTE "Drama" (1:46)
The perfect intro track for our short songs tape is the opening song of Rodrigo's record, which was created to replicate an audience reacting to a man unknowingly showering on stage before a full theater. I've said it before, his mind doesn't work like ours.
25 SLEATER-KINNEY "No Knives" (1:16)
This is a humorous way for Carrie and Corrine to make a point about expectations on women rock bands. But we've always known they were hard-working and blade sharp.
24 SHAME "Great Dog" (1:58)
These dog-loving Brits appreciate the fine art of songwriting ("a good writer writes, a great writer steals") and dog-walking ("a good dog sits, but a great dog heels") in under two-minutes time.
23 DAZY "Right As Rain" (1:20)
(Note: To hear just this song, fast forward to the 13:44 mark of this video)
From a long list of sub-two-minute songs on this power-pop up-and-comer's new compilation comes this indelible chorus lamenting the state of health care as being just another for-profit business.
22 CIVIC "Another Day" (1:26)
Civic mostly deliver three-minute punk-rock songs but here they prove that they can do it in 86-seconds, too, if so inclined.
21 STIFF RICHARDS "Fill in the Blanks" (1:49)
What's above your neck? Is it just your head? / What's above your eyes? Is it just your mind, or is it nothing at all?
20 PSYCHIC FLOWERS "Coming to Collect" (1:42)
(Note: Entire album included in above vid; this song is the first track on the record)
Philly punks promise to collect on debts un-owed. The logic escapes me, but the song doesn't.
19 ALABAMA SLIM "Hot Foot" (1:47)
A little front porch blues ditty to refresh the palette.
18 MARY BELL "Consent" (1:45)
Mary Bell is a Parisian punk band named after a child who murdered two of her classmates, so you know this ain't a tiptoe through the tulips.
17 DESCENDENTS "Crepe Suzette" (1:06)
Named after a flaky-crusted French dessert, but it's about shooting his girlfriend in the head. Doesn't mean it's still not a good punk song.
16 NEIGHBORHOOD BRATS "I Weep for the Future" (1:50)
15 VIAGRA BOYS "Secret Canine Agent" (1:45)
I really wish this caper involving weimaraners, golden retrievers, beagles, and wiener dogs all teaming up to listen in on their owners was in our long song list instead.
14 CHUBBY AND THE GANG "The Mutt's Nuts" (1:50)
I like the way Chubby and the Gang write themselves a new theme song for every record. Here's this year's model.
13 AMYL AND THE SNIFFERS "Don't Need a Cunt (Like You to Love Me)" (1:33)
Clearly, this is a rebuke that doesn't need that much time to convey.
12 UV-TV "Overcast Forever" (1:57)
Not the forecast I wanted to hear, but at least it's done in a power-pop format.
11 STURGILL SIMPSON "Sam" (1:13)
I'm a dog lover, sue me. For the fourth dog song on this tape alone, we get this touching homage to Sam: Been many good dog was a friend to a man / But Sam was the greatest one.
10 THE EXBATS "Best Kiss" (1:55)
The old Exbats humor comes out. The best kiss on the worst night. Was it a boy or a girl or the devil in disguise? Doesn't really matter, I guess.
09 MONSTER MAGNET "The Diamond Mine" (1:58)
The intro to the Magnet's psyche covers record is this DJ spiel packed with peanut butter fudge angels and fur-lined volcanos and that's justification alone for inclusion.
08 GUIDED BY VOICES "Margaret Middle School" (1:10)
Robert Pollard's time in middle school was far different than mine.
07 NAKED RAYGUN "Go the Spoils" (0:47)
An old cliche gets the Naked Raygun treatment.
06 ST. VINCENT "Candy Darling" (1:55)
A worthy song dedicated to the titular character, a former Warhol film star.
05 SOPHIA KENNEDY "Do They Know" (1:47)
After St. Vincent, nothing could follow but someone with the same creative fire.
04 ELIZABETH KING "You've Got to Move" (1:57)
This short gospel blues number sums it up for the true believers: when the Lord calls you, you've got to move. Apparently, he doesn't like waiting.
03 TYLER, THE CREATOR "Sir Baudelaire" (1:29)
Tyler made both the long and short songs lists this year. The first time that's happened!
02 AMYL AND THE SNIFFERS "Freaks to the Front" (1:42)
The first of two songs this year that made our main song list as well.
01 THE BLIPS "Yes Yes No Yes Yes No" (1:42)
The highest ranking short song of the year was never in debate despite its wishy-washy title.
10 FAVORITE AMERICANA RECORDS
America is on such a roll lately, we gave them their own category.
10 TRAPPER SCHOEPP / May Day
Trapper Schoepp's May Day is for anyone who appreciates a simple, well-written song. I first saw him open for Ha Ha Tonka years ago and have been a fan of his lightly galloping songs ever since. He can turn a phrase with the best of them and then hit you in the heart when you don't expect it. May Day is his best set of songs yet.
09 CHUCK JOHNSON / The Cinder Grove
If there's alt.country there has to be ambient country, right? Well here it is. Chuck gives us five pedal steel instrumentals that move in and out of your space unobtrusively, but leave a lasting impression in their wake.
08 CHA WA / My People
This is the sound of New Orleans made by those who live there. There's a pride of place and the rich musical heritage that comes with it here. It could be argued that New Orleans hasn't loved them back in recent years, but that hasn't stopped Cha Wa from making a powerful statement of resolve nonetheless. My people, my place, and we ain't goin' anywhere. Very American.
07 TONY JOE WHITE / Smoke from the Chimney
From earlier this year:
Tony Joe White has been dead well over two years now, which makes it even more impressive that's he's still putting out new records. The basis for Smoke From the Chimney is a collection of stray tapes discovered by his son after his passing in 2018. Smarty, ardent fan Dan Auerbach was entrusted to flesh them out. The ubiquitous Auerbach (he is the only remaining record producer it seems) does a stellar job, too, adding some oomph where needed and exercising restraint when appropriate. It's a tough task trying to determine what the artist might've wanted and there will always be critics, of course (most say it's too fleshed out at times), but the resulting record, flaws and all, is an absolute delight from start to finish. It highlights all the things that made Tony Joe both a one-of-a-kind songwriter and singer. He was a southern storyteller with the deep voice of a late-night DJ, two traits that earned him his "Swamp Fox" nickname. Marvelous stuff.
06 JASON RINGENBERG / Rhinestoned
Jason and the Scorchers were on the forefront of alt.country back in the mid-80s and their leader Jason Ringenberg is still doing it 40 years later with the same fire. He may be wondering if there's an audience for "My Highway Songs" but I guarantee you there will be if the songs are this consistently good. Which they are, ranging in scope from historical racial injustice to the gentrification of our cities (his home in Nashville in particular). How he resisted adding a cover of Glenn Campbell's "Rhinestone Cowboy" to the track list is a testament to his artistic integrity.
05 THE FELICE BROTHERS / From Dreams to Dust
My suspicions that the Felice Brothers weren't for me were countered this year by this smart, humorous curio that took modern concepts and made them sound timeless. Their scope was wide, their ambition notable, their songs eccentric, and their musicianship impressive. Give it space and let it win you over.
04 WILLIE NILE / The Day the Earth Stood Still
Using a human statue on the cover of an album titled The Day the Earth Stood Still was fitting for these troubled times, where our movement was restricted and our usual behaviors altered. Willie didn't shy away from anything on his new, shockingly good record. He even wrote his own mantra for getting through rough patches, "Where There's a Willie There's a Way." Now that's the kind of emotional fortitude we all need right now.
03 VALERIE JUNE / The Moon and Stars: Prescriptions for Dreamers
As pure and smooth as a southern soul record gets. This is a prescription you can take any time you want in any dose you want and it will always make you feel better.
02 JAMES MCMURTRY / The Horses and the Hounds
01 YASMIN WILLIAMS / Urban Driftwood
21 of PICKLED PRIEST'S FAVORITE THINGS FROM 2021
An assortment of random joys
01 Summer of Soul documentary
The first movie I saw in the theater since March of 2020 was Questlove's brilliant Summer of Soul and it was a amazing choice to welcome me back into society (me and the one other person in the entire theater). A music documentary about a series of concerts held in Harlem in the summer of 1969 that I never knew existed until I saw the film. How hours and hours of film was left to sit all these years unviewed is a crime. It would've been worth it for Stevie Wonder's opening drum solo alone, but the magic that follows makes this one of my all-time favorite music films. If you want to witness the joy of making, and listening to, music in one place, this is what you need to watch. It's the best two hours I spent in 2021.
02 GANG OF FOUR / 77-81
The best box set of the year was this Gang of Four beauty featuring vinyl reissues from their prime years between 1977 and 1981. It's got the albums, a singles record, a live record, and even a cassette tape of rarities (that I fear playing due to a lack of reliable cassette player). The obligatory hard-bound book, in this case more of a coffee table affair, is also well done. The packaging is also incredible, a real work of art. Even the shipping box the box set came in is cool. It wasn't cheap, but I've never regretted it for one second. Oh, and the music is revelatory—that hasn't changed. It sounds ahead of its time even now, forty years later.
03 Nick Cave's Red Hand Files squirrel post
If you haven't read Nick Cave's Red Hand Files installment where he discusses what it is like to live in the same house as a squirrel, you really owe it to yourself. Stay for more serious topics as well. The best and most thoughtful writing by a rock star that you're likely to read anywhere.
04 Record Store "Richly Scented Candle" from DW Home
I've yet to light this because I don't want my house smelling like any record store I've ever been in, but I appreciate the effort from DW Home anyway. Maybe someday I'll need it, but it will remain unlit until that fateful day. Please, DW, no Record Store Clerk scent required.
05 The IT Crowd / Moss
The pandemic freed up some time to binge watch some old TV and I stumbled on the British comedy, The IT Crowd, which is consistently funny for the most part (not a masterpiece). It prominently featured the talents of Matt Berry, who is an accomplished musician as we noted in our Sleeper Records of 2021 list above, and his preposterous role as the worst possible boss to have at this time in history has been lauded as genius. But anyone who has watched the show even once knows that it goes nowhere without the nerdy, dry wit of Moss (Richard Ayoade), the deadpan sidekick from the basement IT Department of Reynholm Industries. The episode where he and his co-workers end up at Gay! The Musical is comedy gold.
06 The spectacular sombreros of Vicente Fernández (RIP)
The world of mariachi (or ranchera locally) lost Vicente Fernández this year, an absolute legend of the genre and rocker of the most amazing sombreros in sombrero history. The entire sombrero manufacturing industry mourns his loss just as we lament the loss of a master of the mariachi arts (he was called the Mexican Sinatra by some). It is my sincere wish that I someday can have a custom Vicente Fernandez sombrero in my personal collection of musical artifacts. A gallery of our favorites follows...
07 John Murry in Uncut Magazine
Uncut: How has 2021 been for you?
Murry: Fuck this year, fuck last year. Why did we invent time? To drive ourselves and others stark-raving mad? 2021 has been indifferent to my existence (and yours, friend). There is a virus, yes, and we are dealing with it. How do we deal with the plague that is us, though?
08 Creem Magazine Certified Rock Critic T-shirt
I've never considered myself a rock critic per se. I'm more of an amateur appreciator. I generally highlight what I love and pass on the rest. But Creem Magazine has fired up the marketing engine of late and have issued all kinds of goodies for fans of rock and roll and, optionally, the magazine itself. Usually both, of course. I now wear this proudly, the only prerequisite for the title being a credit card and mailing address.
09 It's a Good, Good Feeling: The Latin Soul of Fania Records: The Singles
Talk about a compilation that's worth every word of its lengthy title. I got this on CD since the vinyl was truncated to only two LPs for some reason, but this is a treasure trove of Latin singles, most of which I'd never heard before. And it brought me great joy in this secluded year.
10 American Dad! / Roger
Another tragically late discovery by me (via my son) is Seth MacFarlane's American Dad! and I'm only 16 years behind (hey, TV ain't my main gig, forgive me). But any fan of the show can tell you that watching the series is worth it for Roger alone, one of the great animated characters of all-time. The "plunger penis" episode provided me my biggest laugh of 2021.
11 Without Getting Killed or Caught documentary
I tuned in for the internet-based premiere of this documentary about the legendary Texas songwriter Guy Clark, a guy who, along with sidekick Townes Van Zandt, were two of the most revered, and unpredictable (in all ways, mostly booze-related) musicians in the state's rich history. But, as is turns out, the story arc goes nowhere without its most pivotal character, Clark's wife Susanna.
12 The Sparks Brothers documentary
I'm not a rabid Sparks fan on the level of some of the "superfans" interviewed (Beck, Thurston Moore, Flea, Steve Jones, Alex Kapranos, Mike Myers, Jason Schwartzman, et al) but I still loved this wonderful and amazingly thorough documentary about Russell and Ron Mael's 50-year musical odyssey. You don't need to be a die-hard Sparks nut, or to know of them at all, to get a thorough kick out of the whole bizarre affair. That said, I'm more of a fan of them now than I ever was before, going on mini Sparks binge post documentary and delighting in the proceeds. The key to the whole thing is their enduring dedication to each other, their endearing love for what they do, and the hard work they put in to sate their loyal fan base.
13 Bandcamp ticker
Whenever I get down about artists not getting paid for their work, I head to my zen places: a record store anywhere anyplace, of course. But if not possible at the moment, I just stare at the Bandcamp ticker and watch how much music is being bought (and often for more than the artists are asking) and watch the selections roll by. When I buy something, I wait for my purchase to show up on the ticker, proud of my support for the artist.
14 Russian Criminal Tattoos and Playing Cards
I read this photo-intensive book about the tattoo and card-playing culture in Russian prisons with dismay this year. It features all kinds of terribly applied tattoos surely done in less-than-hygienic conditions, many of which indicate to the other prisoners exactly who you are dealing with if you mess with them and, on the converse, who has the lowest status. Takeaway: stay out of a Russian prison if you can avoid it. Also featured is the arduous process certain skilled prisoners undertake to make their own playing cards behind bars (cards, and almost everything else, illegal for some reason). Let's put it this way, they don't play Go Fish in the gulag. The card playing culture is also detailed as well as is its unbelievably complex set of rules (mostly about who can play what game, when, with whom, for how much, and the subsequent repayment process when you lose). If you thought your last Friday poker game was high stakes, you have no fucking idea.
15 Panasonic Dynamite 8 Track Player
Wholesomely, I was browsing around the local country fair this summer and stumbled on a real nice Panasonic Dynamite 8-track player for sale in "Detonator Red" (other colors, "Bomb Blue" and "Explosion Yellow"). I even bought it a couple 8-tracks (Captain & Tennille's Love Will Keep Us Together and Neil Diamond's Beautiful Noise) which it promptly gobbled up and spit out (cleaning and possible overhaul needed). But I didn't really care if it worked, to be honest. I just wanted to look at it and remember a more innocent time when these crappy sounding devices were everywhere, kids hitting the plunger like they were on Press Your Luck when they wanted to change tracks. How 8-tracks ever became a thing remains a mystery: much more unwieldy than a cassette, harder to find the song you want to hear, rewind option unavailable, prone to getting crushed while strewn on the floor of your gold Camaro, poor graphics, no liner note/song information (or in tiny print), tracks would bleed into each other over time, the tape got mangled easily, and worst of all, a longer track could be split into two parts requiring an awkward, and loud, switch from one track to the next right in the middle ("Castle Walls" from Styx's Grand Illusion split over tracks three and four, for example). So, this is more an artifact for me than something I want to use. That said, if you know how to fix these things let me know, I would love one last romp around the neighborhood with a Seals & Crofts tape blasting.
16 Questlove's Music Is History
Questlove, Part II. I've been enjoying Quest's new book this year. It ties personal experiences and historical events starting in 1971 (his birth year) and adds a curated playlist after each section inspired by the subject matter. He's known for his encyclopedic knowledge of music and there's a lot of new discoveries to be had for even the most well-informed listener. I also like a book that is made to digest in small parts. Read the selections, then listen to the songs. Repeat as needed.
17 Velvet Underground documentary
This long-awaited documentary couldn't be long enough for me. I would've loved a six-hour Get Back-length look into the world of VU, Warhol, Nico, The Factory, and all the ancillary characters, places, and things that circulated and intertwined with each other in mid- to late-60s New York. I was as intrigued by the chemical elements that had to come together to create this universe almost more than I was by the universe itself.
18 Stax Studios brick
One of the great musical tragedies of all-time is how the original Stax Studios on McLemore Avenue in Memphis was allowed to be torn down and turned into a church parking lot back on August 11, 1989. How could not one person in the entire city of Memphis, nor the state of Tennessee for that matter, stop this from happening? The lack of historical respect absolutely staggers my soul to the core to this day. Yes, they eventually came to their senses and built a facsimile reproduction of the original studio (down to the slanted movie-theater floor in the recording studio), but the damage was done. A revered local record store, Shangri-La Records, attempted to keep the memory alive, however, by negotiating the purchase of some original bricks from the building's facade. They were sold locally through the record store for a while unbeknownst to me and when I first visited they had a "Stax bricks SOLD OUT" sign by the cash register. That hurt. Ever since, I've wanted one. Just one little piece of the hallowed home where so many of my favorite songs of all-time were created. Well, happy ending, I now have sourced a brick, complete with a COI from Shangri-La's very own "Brickologist" and it now sits proudly on the shelf over my computer. It may seem like a strange thing to own, but I feel its presence in the room every time I'm in it.
19 THE STAPLE SINGERS / Come Go With Me: The Stax Collection
While on the subject of Stax, I popped for another medium-ticket item this year and it paid off handsomely. The complete Stax output of the Staple Singers from 1968-1974, lovingly reissued with their original packaging and the usual extras (book, rarities LP, slipcase) is found in Come Go With Me. But the only thing that really matters in the end is the music. And these records sound glorious. If you know the Staple staples, don't just go skin deep. There's real beauty underneath that first layer of hits. My personal delight was in discovering some things I've missed out on all these years by going the compilation route. Listening to full Staple Singers records is like going to church and a BLM rally all in one spot. They have been telling it like it is for a long, long time and this set of records is proof.
20 Tess (aka "Big Money Tess") R.I.C. (Rest in Comfort)
We mourned the loss of one of our three Pickled Priest dogs this year. That's our Tess, 100% dog, and we loved her that way. Never one to shy away from slamming her noggin into a hardwood floor, running through a closed screen door, or cramming her big butt into too small of a dog bed, she was always, unabashedly, confidently, hilariously, brazenly....Tess.
21 Our readers
Speaking of doing something for the sheer desire to create, that's been the only purpose of this blog since its inception (in one form or another) 30 years ago. It would still probably exist with no readers, but it's even better to share it will fellow music fanatics. I appreciate the kind words, the sarcastic criticism, and the vast majority of you who will forever remain anonymous. Thanks for stopping by now and then for a little musical communion.
Happy New Cheers,