6 albums that stood out in 2021, like the new classics from Buck Meek and Lil Nas X


Sons of Kemet recorded one of the best records of the year with “Black to the Future”. Photo: Udoma Janssen

Last week, The Chronicle showcased the top local music picks of 2021. Now let’s take a look beyond the Bay Area. Here are six albums that stand out from the crowd this year.

Buck Meek, “Two Saviors” (keeled scales)

Best known as the guitarist and backing vocalist of Brooklyn folk group Big Thief, Meek released his second solo album in January, and he proved a welcome companion for a year-long slog. Meek’s sweet folk songs feature clever lyricism and a smile, giving the feeling that in the end, everything will be fine. “Heaven is a motel with a seashell phone,” the Texan sings softly on “Candle,” one of the best songs of the year, studded with sliding guitars. Recorded in New Orleans, the dreamy “Two Saviors” is music that radiates southern charm while evoking the bucolic foliage of upstate New York, where folks like Meek abound in the summer.

Sons of Kemet, “Black to the Future” (Impulse!)

A premier Afrofuturist jazz statement, “Black to the Future” is a masterful instrumental display teeming with black power. At the forefront of the modern British jazz movement, the Sons of Kemet quartet is led by composer and multi-instrumentalist Shabaka Hutchings, and this album is a moving tribute to their Afro-Caribbean roots. Theon Cross’s tuba blaring harmoniously with Hutchings clarinet and sax on “To Never Forget the Source” is one of the most sublime pieces of music you’ll hear this year.

The equally powerful “In Remembrance of These Fallen” plays deeper into the duo’s dichotomy, but with a tribal bent, as Hutchings adds a flute to its wood frame, while drummers Tom Skinner and Eddie Hick complete an arrangement. incredible. “Hustle” features British rapper Kojey Radical to a dancehall beat that illustrates the group’s stylistic diversity in this unmissable release.

Lil Nas X, “Montero” (Colombia)

The perfect pop star for 2021, Lil Nas X pulled all the strings of the marketing department for “Montero”: shoes made of human blood, a fake “Maury” appearance and giving Satan a lap dance, to name a few. only a few. But the music lives up to the hype. Debut single “Montero (Call Me by Your Name)” reintroduced the “Old Town Road” country-rap star, but with a more concerted effort in pop production and full ownership of his status as a gay icon. .

On “Industry Baby”, he asserts his domination in the world of music: “I told you a long time ago on the road, I got what they expected”, he sings, in nod to this first hit. Throughout the album, Lil Nas X does everything shamelessly. It’s a fitting approach when your career has blossomed so quickly and triumphantly that Elton John makes an appearance on your debut album; he plays the piano on “One of Me”.

Charlotte Day Wilson, “Alpha” (Stone Woman Music)

On her own debut LP, Charlotte Day Wilson of Toronto does it all. The skillful singer, multi-instrumentalist and producer has created a list of dashing songs that radiate elegance and determination. “If I Could” sees her trying to rid a loved one of her depression: And you would be free once again. “Keep Moving” is an upbeat number that showcases the versatility of Wilson’s velvet voice.

Much of the album centers around queer love. She is joined by Syd of the LA internet hip-hop group on “Take Care of You,” a collaboration that shows the incredible talent of like-minded artists. If there’s one album that deserved more attention in 2021, it’s this one.

Little Simz, “Sometimes I Could Be An Introvert” (AWAL)

Our standout rap album of the year came from the Anglo-Nigerian MC, who delivered sharp, confident but vulnerable hip-hop. She touts the virtues of black women around the world on “Woman”, points a hat to Nigerian slang on “Point and Kill” and, with the help of singer Cleo Sol (a frequent collaborator on the album), sing happily to be in love on “I see you”. Speaking of assists, Simz got a major from Inflo, who produced the album, as well as three tracks on Adele’s “30”.

But the focus here is on Simz, and she leaves a lasting mark by singing her ex-dad on “I love you, I hate you”. Dominating every square inch of Inflo’s intricate rhythm, she drops dizzying rhymes as she describes the push-pull consequences of her father’s absence. “He was just a boy, I often feel like I forget / Looking at Polaroids of secretly kept footage / You know what was destroyed, but you don’t know what is left”, she raps. The album is loaded, but pick the lyrics for that particular song to see just how powerful hip-hop can be in the right hands.

Floating Points and Pharoah Sanders, “Promises” (Luaka Bop)

Go ahead and rank “Promises” as the most ambitious collaboration of the year. British producer and pianist Floating Points (aka Sam Shepherd) and psychedelic jazz saxophone legend Pharoah Sanders have teamed up with the string section of the London Symphony Orchestra for this inspiring release. The album is a continuous nine-movement work that feels like walking through the clouds in the comfort of your own home. The way Shepherd uses electronics to pull notes and leave space for Sanders to play is mind-boggling. The strings, conducted by composer Sally Herbert, might as well be played by angels in a work that is nothing less than levitation.


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