This Week’s Theme: Best of 2021
This week’s Faux Show is a classic countdown list. I have included several different Best of the Year selections followed by a Top 20 albums countdown. One thing I’ve realized while making the Faux Show this year is that I like some modern pop artists. I normally don’t listen to pop music, and I still can’t get into Doja Cat or Megan Thee Stallion, but I have a newfound appreciation for some of the pop artists who produced music this year. Similarly, the pop artists who are considered rock, such as Machine Gun Kelly, are not any kind of rock that I want to listen to. However, there are some popular artists who incorporate a rock sound into their production that I have discovered I also enjoy. There were also plenty of new records by some of my old favorites this year, and some of them are on this list. Finally, researching new international artists for each week’s show has led to the discovery of several that are absolutely fantastic.
Before I get to the Top 20 countdown, I’ve started out simple with some best of genre selections.
Welcome to Radio Faux Show number forty-three.
First things first – click a link to start listening and then come back to read about this week’s songs.
Jazz Album of the Year
Somewhere Different by Brandee Younger
My favorite jazz album of 2020, and one of my favorite albums for the entire year, was Force Majeure by Dezron Douglas and Brandee Younger. That album was an intimate chamber jazz duet that showcased the bass playing of Douglas and the harp playing of Younger. It was a perfect Covid-year-one recording that made the listener feel like they were in lockdown while two virtuoso musicians gave a concert just for them.
Instead of following up that album with another intimate recording, Younger’s Somewhere Different presents her harp mastery in a larger ensemble setting. All tracks feature a harp trio (harp, bass, drums), except for two which also include some horns. Allan Mednard (drums) and Rashaan Carter (bass) are amazing players, and there are even a few tracks that feature bass appearances by Dezron Douglas and legend Ron Carter(!). However, no matter the setting, Younger’s harp playing remains intimate even when surrounded by the incredible grooves laid down by the rhythm section. Produced by Dezron Douglas, this is 21st century jazz that combines elements of hip hop, funk, and soul with incredible jazz playing by all involved. There is not a single moment of this album that doesn’t hold your attention, and there are occasional moments of sheer beauty in the interplay between Younger’s harp and the rest of the band.
Brandee Younger is one of the most important voices in modern jazz, and is now carrying the torch passed to her by former jazz harpists Dorothy Ashby and Alice Coltrane. Being a woman and playing the harp are most likely not going to make you a household name in the world of jazz, but Younger deserves a lot more acclaim and recognition than she gets. Hopefully this new album will introduce the beauty of jazz harp playing to a new generation of jazz fans.
Rap Album of the Year
Sometimes I Might Be Introvert by Little Simz
I seem to enjoy less and less new rap music every year, so I was pleasantly surprised to discover the great fourth album by British-Nigerian rapper Little Simz. Sometimes I Might Be Introvert is a very personal record, delving into topics of anxiety, personal trauma, and insecurity, but the themes are presented with an over-the-top, theatric production that mostly works to good effect. I’m not sure that any new ground is covered here, either artistically, lyrically, or musically, but Simz’ technique is well-crafted and her lyrics are top-notch. There is no drop off from song to song, and the best of the songs are fantastic. This is a great follow-up to her breakthrough album Grey Area, and is sure to make plenty of year-end and awards nomination lists.
Too Old to Rock and Roll, Too Young to Die (Honorable Mention)
There were plenty of albums released by old artists this year. Some of them are in my Top 20. Of the others, I especially enjoyed Native Sons, the album of California Artist covers by Los Lobos, Future Past by Duran Duran, and The Devil In Me by Suzi Quatro. Of them all, three stood out because of their successful attempt to channel the sound of the artists from their earlier years.
Downhill From Everywhere is a great return to the early ’80s sound that Jackson Browne evolved into after his classic run of ’70s albums. It compares well to Hold Out (1980) and Lawyers in Love (1983), but doesn’t quite reach the heights of his best from that period (“Somebody’s Baby,” “Tender Is The Night,” and “Boulevard”). Browne’s fifteenth album mixes his political views well with a nice vintage rock sound without hitting you too hard over the head with his message. It is a nice introduction to this songwriting legend for any young music lovers who may discover him through this record, and it is sure to please his long-time fans.
Weezer have been fairly prolific over the last few years, but their last couple of albums have been more or less for fans only. Van Weezer, however, is a classic Weezer album with their trademark riffage, great melodies, and a well-done nod to Van Halen on several tracks. This is a complete listen, and some of the songs are immediate Weezer classics, especially “The End Of The Game,” “All The Good Ones,” “Hero,” and my personal favorite “Sheila Can Do It.”
Medicine At Midnight is the tenth album by Foo Fighters and a perfect release for their 25th anniversary. I was a huge Foo fan during their early years, but my interest has continued to wain with the release of each album since 2005’s In Your Honor. At some point, my tastes evolved away from the “angry young man” music of Dave Grohl and his post-grunge contemporaries. This album surprised me by having a less noisy and more pop-based feel to it. Although it isn’t one of the year’s best, it has a nice mix of their ’90s sound with a modern pop production and is worth a listen every now and then.
Singer/Songwriter Album of the Year
Arrivals by Declan O’Rourke
One of the primary features of great songwriting is the ability to move the listener emotionally. Bob Dylan’s “Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll” makes you both sad and angry. Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi” makes you both laugh and cry. Jackson Browne’s “Song For Adam” makes you both cry and rejoice for the life you’ve been given. Tears, laughter, anger, heartbreak – great songwriters run the listener through the gamut. There are still plenty of singer/songwriters producing new material, but it is always a revelation when one comes through with a collection of songs that runs you through that emotional rollercoaster.
Arrivals by Declan O’Rourke does that and more. Utilizing mostly just his guitar and voice, O’Rourke runs the emotional gamut with these ten songs. Covering a wide variety of themes, he delivers his poignant lyrics in classic singer/songwriter style. His guitar playing is also superb, and he has that rare gift in which he can occasionally make his guitar sound like an orchestra. O’Rourke’s output has been steady over the last fifteen years, and this record is yet another example that he has truly mastered his craft.
Faux Jr.’s Top Five
Faux, Jr. is always introducing me to great new (and old) music. I asked him for his top five of the year, so here are his picks, in no particular order.
Declan O’Rourke Arrivals: See Singer/Songwriter Album of the Year
Squid Bright Green Field: The debut album by this Brighton post-punk band combines a classic punk sound with driving grooves and bursts of noise. Every song on the record is worth a listen, and there is enough diversity within the post-punk framework to keep you interested all the way through. This is definitely a band to watch for the next few years.
black midi Cavalcade: Black midi’s 2019 debut came out of nowhere and was one of the best albums of the year. Their sophomore effort is arguably even better, with the band expanding their progressive rock sound even further than on their debut. Anyone who listens to prog-rock in the King Crimson vein already knows that this band is the heir to Robert Fripp’s throne. Full disclosure, this album was on my Top 20 list until Faux, Jr. selected it. I decided not to repeat it on the list, but it would have otherwise been in my Top 10.
Psychedelic Porn Crumpets SHYGA! The Sunlight Mound: The fourth album by this Australian psych-rock band is their most successful yet. They haven’t risen to the level of the most famous band from the Australian psych-rock scene, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, but they appear to have found their own sound on this release. This is true psych-rock – a mix of ’60s psychedelia with 21st century production, very much in the realm of KGLW. Fans of KGLW should definitely listen to this release, especially if they like the pre-Rat’s Nest sound of KGLW from 2016-19.
Shame Drunk Tank Pink: The second album by this British post-punk band is set squarely in the sound of Gang of Four, which is a good thing. Like the best 21st century post-punk, the band moves the late ’70s post-punk sound into the modern world with an intelligent mix of the old and the new. There is plenty of anger in the mix, but the occasional forays into quiet moments and somber breaks balances it all out nicely.
Top 5 Videos of the Year
I am in no way an expert in the videos released this year, but I know what I like when I see it. Here are five of my favorites, in no particular order. One of them is also my pick for Song Of The Year.
Song Of The Year
“Chaise Longue” by Wet Leg
This year saw the emergence of a brand new band from the Isle of Wight. They are called Wet Leg, and up until a couple of weeks ago they had only released two songs. They have now pre-released two more songs from their self-titled album, due out in April 2022. All of the songs are good, but the first single, “Chaise Longue,” is a piece of art-pop magic. The video is incredible, the song is unique and fresh, and they balance just the right amount of mystery and “fuck you all” rock energy. Their debut album is by far my most anticipated release for next year.
They are not as popular as a lot of other 2021 pop acts, but they got the attention of enough people to turn one song into a career within just a few weeks. They have been name dropped by Duran Duran’s Simon LeBon as his favorite new band, they are a social media phenomenon, and they are sure to make hundreds of best of lists for this year. And all with only two (now four) songs ever heard by anyone. Just fantastic!
And now, my Top 20 albums of the year…
Number 20: Barbara Pravi
On n’enferme pas les oiseaux
This was the first year that I have watched the Eurovision Song Contest. When I did so, I had no idea how much I would enjoy it. Although the majority of the songs on the show were forgettable, the songs by Go_A (“Shum”), Manizha (“Russian Woman”), and Barbara Pravi (“Voila”) are all great songs that I still listen to. Even more incredible is that Barbara Pravi, who placed second in the contest, has turned her success into newfound popularity and has released a great full-length album. The record begins with her Eurovision song, “Voila,” and then proceeds with ten more gorgeous tracks. She performs in the song style called Chanson, a modern take on the polyphonic French music of the Renaissance. But there is nothing old fashioned about her music. Her subtle delivery is extremely powerful when combined with the beautiful songs selected for the album. This is a record that will probably be ignored by those who don’t know Pravi from the Eurovision show, and that is a shame because it is a timeless collection of modern Chanson.
Number 19: Chrissie Hynde
Standing In The Doorway: Chrissie Hynde Sings Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan songs have probably been covered more than any other artist than The Beatles, so it is very refreshing when a collection of Dylan songs gets such an intelligent treatment. On this album, Chrissie Hynde drops her iconic Pretenders rock and roll persona and delivers nine intimate covers of lesser known Dylan songs. Personally selected by Hynde, the songs are presented with minimal, acoustic instrumentation, a decision that pays off by allowing her distinctive voice to frame the poignancy of the lyrics inside a simple musical backdrop. Much like Dylan, Hynde’s best songs are poetry set to music, so she was well-suited to pick nine songs that sound as if she wrote them herself. This is an unexpected tribute from one legend to another and it works beautifully.
Number 18: Durand Jones & The Indications
Number 17: Aaron Frazer
One of the most satisfying discoveries I made this year was the band Durand Jones & The Indications. They’ve only been around for four years, and they’ve already released three great albums. I listened to a lot of retro soul during the early part of the century (Daptone Records, Sharon Jones, Raphael Saadiq, Charles Bradley) but haven’t paid much attention to the genre over the last few years. Apparently I should have continued paying attention because vocalist Durand Jones and the rest of The Indications are as good at making this music as any of the original retro soul acts. Their third album, Private Space, is a classic piece of retro soul and showcases the talents of every member of the band, including the vocals of drummer Aaron Frazer. Unlike a lot of the original retro soul bands, The Indications focus their talent directly on the early ’70s soul of artists like Smokey Robinson, Isaac Hayes, and Marvin Gaye, and don’t rely on imitations of ’60s Atlantic and Stax artists like Aretha Franklin and Otis Redding. That isn’t to say that those original retro soul acts were wrong to go there, but it does mean that the music of The Indications stands out as something different in the retro soul genre that started twenty years ago. There isn’t a bad track on the album, and there is enough variety to keep your interest all the way through.
It was hard not to group these two records together, so I did. Aaron Frazer is the drummer, co-vocalist, and co-founder of the band Durand Jones & The Indications. For his debut, Frazer doesn’t stray far from the path laid by his main group, but he also doesn’t just imitate their sound and bring in members of the band to back him. Although this record is firmly set in the retro soul movement, it is truly an Aaron Frazer solo album. Instead of relying on his band-mates, Frazer brings in Black Keys guitarist Dan Auerbach for production duties. Auerbach, in return, brings in some great session musicians and songwriters to provide Frazer the space to create a signature sound. Although Frazer’s vocals remain in the falsetto style of Smokey Robinson and Curtis Mayfield that he uses for The Indications’ recordings, the music is broadened by the use of some heavy hitting retro soul players, and even some original soul players. There are members of the original retro soul Dap-Tone Records group, along with members of The Memphis Boys (the original house band for American Sound Studios in the ’60s). Prolific percussionist Sam Bracco even appears on some tracks. Overall this is a solid album. Taken together with the new album by The Indications, the two records provide a solid retro soul feast for fans, old and new.
Number 16: Joan Armatrading
I have been listening to music for a long time, so I have compiled a long list of favorite artists that I have listened to for many decades. For this reason, it is always exciting when one of my favorites releases a new album. On the flip side, it is always disappointing when that album is not very good. For anyone who has been a fan of an artist for many years, this is unfortunately a common occurrence. It is difficult for all of us to maintain a high level of quality in everything we do year after year, decade after decade, and that is no different for recording artists. In this light, it was extremely gratifying when the latest album by Joan Armatrading turned out to be so well done. As an Armatrading fan, I would say that she has never made a bad record, but some are definitely better than others. Although her releases have been more sporadic in the 21st century, Consequences is still her sixth release of the century and her twentieth overall. After a fifty-year career, she has mastered her songwriting craft, and this collection of introspective love songs and songs of hope shows off that mastery while also sounding fresh, modern, and timely. Joan Armatrading is a songwriter’s songwriter and this is one of her finest.
Number 15: William Shatner
Before the release of William Shatner’s 2004 album Has Been, Shatner’s recording career was either unknown, ignored, or mocked. His spoken word renditions of popular songs from the ’60s and ’70s were shared by those interested in the oddities of music, and his inclusion on the cult classic Golden Throats compilation led to decades of laughter at his expense. And, to be honest, Shatner’s life up until 2004 was filled with enough success in television, movies, and science fiction writing that his music career was just a silly aside that could be ignored. That all changed after Ben Folds befriended Shatner and they collaborated to record one of the best albums of 2004. That record was filled with personal poems about moments from throughout Shatner’s life, all presented with Shatner’s trademark spoken word delivery over a wonderful set of Folds-produced backing tracks. Since that album, Shatner has released new albums on a fairly regular basis, all of them using the model presented by Has Been. Some are country-influenced, one is a collection of covers, one is a holiday album, and most of them incorporate Shatner’s poetry. They are all hit or miss, so I was surprised at how much this new album felt like a complete concept. With production and arrangement by They Might Be Giants guitarist Dan Miller, the album almost reaches the heights set by Has Been. This is in part due to the production work by Miller, but I think it is mostly due to the cohesive elements presented in the lyrics. Much like Has Been, this album presents a very personal view of moments from throughout Shatner’s life. Shatner has had an amazing 2021. He flew into space for god’s sake. This record feels like a nice bookend to an amazing life and career. He may make more, but if he stops here it would feel like the right thing to do.
Number 14: Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio
I Told You So
This is the hottest young band in jazz/funk out there right now. The Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio has been around for seven years, but this is only their second release. They broke out with their 2016 debut, Close But No Cigar, which hit number one on the jazz charts, and they have been touring extensively since. Consisting of Hammond B-3 organ, guitar, and drums, this Seattle band lays down groove after groove on this fantastic release. I have always loved the sound of the B-3. If you aren’t familiar with it by name, you are by sound. Keith Emerson and Steve Winwood used it extensively, but the organ style of Delvon Lamarr is more closely related to that of Billy Preston, Booker T., and Jimmy Smith, three of the main players who turned it into an instrument for funky soul. When used appropriately, which Lamarr does, the B-3 is one of the most soulful sounds out there. Without a bass player, a skilled B-3 player like Lamarr is able to take center stage and ride the groove laid down by the drummer with ease. The end result, as on this album, is a funky joy. Plus, their song “Fo Sho” is the unofficial theme song of The Radio Faux Show!
Number 13: The Hold Steady
Open Door Policy
The Hold Steady have been a favorite of mine since I discovered them after they released their break out album Separation Sunday in 2005. After that, I went back to their debut and even their earlier work as the band Lifter/Puller, and I hung in there with them for about five albums. I found their records over the last ten or fifteen years to be less and less interesting, but I also wasn’t paying much attention. Perhaps this is a case of “absence makes the heart grow fonder,” but their 2021 release Open Door Policy really hit me just right. Perhaps they never stopped sounding like this, but to my ears it seems like a fresh return to their early 2000s sound that their fans have always loved. The gritty characters and unending look back to a lost past are all in there, and all set to those great Craig Finn riffs. There is nothing groundbreaking to be found here, but at this point it is nice to just have the sound of an old friend come crashing through the door.
Number 12: Bobby Ramone
Rocket to Kingston
Speaking of having the sound of an old friend come crashing through the door, this mashup of Bob Marley vocals and Ramones music also hit me just right this year. I am not a huge fan of mashups, but I can appreciate the art when it is done right. This album is done right. The main reason it works so well is that the connection between punk and reggae goes back to the roots of both forms of music. Both are musical expressions of social unrest, political dissidence, and attacks against authority. The music of Bob Marley works perfectly on its own to express those feelings of anger and resentment, but combining it with these Ramones riffs creates a new interpretation that at times sounds even more combative. I can’t say that I will listen to this record much after this year, but there was a point after its release when it was all I listened to. If nothing else, I think I’ll be adding the mashup of “Get Up, Stand Up” and “I Don’t Wanna Be A Pinhead” to playlists for years to come.
Number 11: Adele
I hesitated to to include this record on the list because I haven’t listened to it enough yet to make an informed evaluation. It is quite possible that ten years from now this will be my favorite album of 2021 so for now I’ll drop it into the middle of the list. All of Adele’s albums have grown on me over time, and I started listening with the release of her first, 19, in 2008 after Ms. Faux introduced it to me. In some ways, that album was the start of my enjoyment of modern pop music. I may not be well-versed in all of the songs of Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Bruno Mars, Beyonce, and the hundreds of other pop artist contemporaries of Adele, but I’m always excited when she releases a new album. Each of her first three records has been better than the last, so history suggests that this one is great.
I’m sure that a few Google clicks will find a hundred expert reviews of the meaning of these songs and the background story of her divorce leading to this record, so I won’t attempt an explanation of any of that. I will just say that Adele’s music is always very personal and this one, at first listen, feels a little bit TOO personal – thus my hesitancy on attempting to properly rate it. Listening to it as I write this, the track “My Little Love” is playing and I can’t decide whether to stop to listen, keep writing, or just break down and cry. This is music by a true artist who deserves all of the success she has received.
Number 10: Mountain Goats
Dark In Here
If I remove all pretense and simply create this list based on my heart, any album by the Mountain Goats would always be Number One. You can check out Radio Faux Show Number 18 for my thoughts on John Darnielle and how much I adore this band. However, if I am being critical, the last few Mountain Goats albums have not been my favorites. There have always been periods in Darnielle’s career at which his songwriting becomes a little repetitive and less interesting, and I was afraid that he had hit that point. In the past he has resolved this artistic issue by changing things up – either with his overall sound or by changing members of the band – and it has always seemed like an organic change rather than a conscious one. The new sound he has been working on since his 2015 album Beat the Champ was perfected on the 2017 album Goths, most notably by the increased dependence on multi-instrumentalist Matt Douglas. Four years in, and I was afraid that this new sound had peaked and Darnielle would move on to something new. This would have been a shame because Dark in Here shows that there is still room for this group to grow. Their best album since Goths, the Mountain Goats present a variety of styles throughout this new album, and the interplay between the four band-mates is as strong as it has been over the last five years. The lyrics are classic Darnielle – evocative, heartfelt, and powerful. The melodies are solid, as always, and the riffs are familiar yet new. This is a great addition to the Mountain Goats collection. It isn’t a good place to start for novices, but it certainly gives their fans plenty to cheer about.
Number 9: Olivia Rodrigo
Billie Eilish is more popular and more talented and a better singer and more culturally important and will have a longer, more successful career. But I don’t really like Billie Eilish’s music that much (at least not yet), while this ridiculous album about teen angst and a failed relationship is crazy good. It is a 21st century piece of teeny bopper power pop that is catchy as hell. It steals from Elvis Costello. It mixes just enough rock and roll into the mix to keep the ballads from pushing the album over the cliff of pseudo-sentimentality. It is a totally fake emotional ride that only a teenager would find deep and rewarding. It is the musical equivalent of skittles. Eat one once in a while or eat the whole bag. Either way, you aren’t disappointed. I doubt I’ll listen to her next album, but sometimes young artists catch lightning in a bottle with a lucky mix of production, songwriting, and timing. Good job Olivia Rodrigo. Ride this wave as long as you can.
Number 8: Yebba
I listen to very little modern R&B, but this album gets better and better every time I listen. First of all, Yebba has an amazing voice. She falls short of Adele-level talent, but she combines a jazz vocalists style with a pop artists tone and it works very well. Her songwriting is solid; “Boomerang” could easily be an Adele track, and “All I Ever Wanted” and “October Sky” are simply gorgeous. Even more importantly, she succeeds at combining modern R&B/pop songwriting with a ’70s Stevie Wonder vibe. Songs like “How Many Years” and “Distance” sound like they could have been on Innervisions if it was recorded forty years later. This is a fantastic debut for an artist who has already won a Grammy. I’m listening to it as I write this, and I am thinking that maybe I have it ranked too low. Ask me again next week and I may put it at Number 2 on this list.
Number 7: Dirty Honey
It is near impossible to find good, old fashioned, rock and roll music by new artists anymore. A few years ago, Greta Van Fleet was supposed to be the second coming of Led Zeppelin but they were not ready to meet that hype. Popular rock artists like Machine Gun Kelly are about as far from good old rock and roll as an artist can get. A bunch of tattoos doesn’t make you a rock artist if you are playing weak-ass, boring pop music. That is why Dirty Honey are a hurricane’s worth of fresh air. Two parts Led Zeppelin, two parts AC/DC, a pinch of Black Crowes, and some hair metal panache equals a rock band that I can get into. Guitarist John Notto has mastered the riffage of Jimmy Page and Malcolm Young – he actually steals flagrantly from both of them. Vocalist Marc LaBelle is not afraid to hit the high notes like Robert Plant or Vince Neil. The rhythm section never let’s up throughout the album’s eight tracks. It clocks in at less than thirty minutes, but it still feels like a fully formed piece of rock and roll. Thirty years ago this would have been just another album, but nowadays records like this are so rare that I can’t stop listening to it.
Number 6: Toumani Diabate & The London Symphony Orchestra
Toumani Diabate is from Mali and plays the West African, 21-stringed instrument called the kora. He is from a long line of kora players. His father was the first person to record an album of kora music, over fifty years ago. Diabate is a prolific recording artist who released his first album in 1987. I will be totally honest and admit that I do not know any of his music prior to this release, but I plan to research his older albums as I am sure they are fantastic. No matter what his old albums sound like, this album is simply gorgeous. The interplay of the kora with the London Symphony Orchestra is at times understated and at times swells into a sound that can’t help but hit the listener deep in their soul. As a master of the kora, his playing sometimes sounds as if he has 21 fingers playing all 21 strings. The melodies are hypnotic and the songs are beautiful. There is simply nothing more to be said other than that this is an amazing collaboration of world-class, virtuoso musicians who have created a timeless piece of art.
Number 5: UPSAHL
On one end of the 2021 music about failed relationships spectrum we have Adele’s album 30, a collection of mature songs about divorce, parenthood, and emotional growth. On the other end of the spectrum we have UPSAHL’s Lady Jesus, a collection of songs about an f’d-up twenty-something’s f’d up relationship, f’d up life, and a whole bunch of other f’d up stuff. I am not sure I have ever been able to relate to a single lyric in any of these songs, even when I was an f’d up twenty-something, but that does not matter. In the end, this is a person, just like you and me, who is struggling with the challenges of finding love in this crazy old world. Or maybe not – I mean, this is really some f’d up stuff that I can’t relate to so what do I know? I never had to break up with someone because they used social media to post a picture of themself in bed with somebody. Either way, the music is catchy as hell and her lyrics don’t take herself too seriously. This is a simple pop album that makes you smile and nod your head while driving around running errands, and sometimes that is exactly what you need.
Number 4: Brandi Carlile
In These Silent Days
Brandi Carlile is a singer/songwriter who has been recording for a little over fifteen years. During that time she has received many accolades, including a bunch of Grammy nominations and even one win. Her music is most often considered country, but that is really an inaccurate description as she is a singer/songwriter whose material works in any genre. After a successful fifteen year career, most artists have most likely passed their peak of popularity and are settling into the second phase of their career in which they can perform for their fans, record some new records now and then, and more or less take it easy when they want to. Carlile, on the other hand, appears to be entering the most successful phase of her career. Her work over the last two years has made her a household name. She produced Tanya Tucker’s award-winning album While I’m Livin’, she co-founded a critically acclaimed, all-female group called The Highwomen, she wrote a best-selling memoir, and she performed on Saturday Night Live. As if that all wasn’t enough, her 2021 album In These Silent Days is arguably her best set of songs yet. Every song on this album is powerful and personal. There is now no doubt that she has mastered her craft and is one of the most important songwriters performing today.
Number 3: Tai Verdes
When I first heard the song “A-O-K” last summer, I was immediately hooked. Simple hip-hop beat, simple guitar riff, and a catchy chorus that sounds familiar yet original at the same time. That is the secret to this entire debut by Verdes. It is simple, but every song is unique. Verdes failed at several attempts to make it onto The Voice and American Idol, but that makes sense because his talking/singing vocal style is not the kind of voice those shows look for. Fortunately for Verdes, he teamed up with producer/songwriter Adam Friedman. Friedman was able to match Verdes’ style with backing tracks that allow his voice to shine without having to overpower the production. It is clear that Verdes has a great voice, but his minimal vocal presentation really works on these songs of despair, struggle, and longing. That is not to say that this is not a happy record, because it is very joyous and uplifting, but that happiness is presented through the lens of someone who sees the difficulties of succeeding in the world. Verdes was able to produce his early recordings with the prize money he earned by winning an MTV dating show, so clearly he is a good-looking, charming young man. Combine that with his musical talent and it seems like this is the start of a successful career.
Number 2: Arooj Aftab
Arooj Aftab’s career is a 21st century success story. She is a Pakistani-American who trained herself to sing and play guitar by listening to a mix of Hindi and Sufi musicians along with American artists like Billie Holiday and Mariah Carey. She was an early innovator in the use of the internet at the turn of the century to promote her music in Pakistan and was one of the original artists in the Pakistani indie scene. She released two albums in the six years prior to 2021, both of which received critical acclaim and broadened her fan-base. She has performed at Lincoln Center and MOMA, as well as several other major venues and festivals, and now she is ready to turn that early success into stardom. Apparently, Barack Obama added her to a recent list of music he listens to (a fact I did not know until Faux, Jr. told me), so that certainly helped her become more well-known. In addition, she has recently been nominated for a Grammy for Best New Artist and Best Global Music Performance.
Aftab’s new album is absolutely beautiful. Her songwriting is westernized neo-sufi, and she presents her songs as a minimalist blend of her gorgeous vocals with guitar, bass, piano, harp, and other strings. I am no expert on South Asian music, but these songs are a mix of poetry (called ghazals) with her own interpretations. She has devoted her adulthood to the study of both South Asian music and western music, as well as music engineering and production, and this record is the culmination of years of work to produce this final product. Luckily for all of us, all of her hard work has succeeded, probably even more than she ever could have imagined.
Number 1: Floating Points & Pharoah Sanders (featuring The London Symphony Orchestra)
Electronic music producer Floating Points has been recording music for about six years. The London Symphony Orchestra has been making music for over a hundred years and is the oldest symphony in London. Pharoah Sanders has been recording music for almost sixty years and is the greatest living saxophonist. In theory, this does not seem like a trio that should work that well together, but work it does. This is the first album that 81-year old Sanders has released under his own name since 2003, and it is a gift to all of us that he agreed to record new music.
On the surface, this album can be described as spiritual jazz meets classical music and 21st century electronic music, but that description evokes a sound that isn’t quite what is presented here. The best way to describe this recording is as a multi-part meditation on a theme. Throughout all nine movements of this conceptual piece of music, there is an underlying theme repeated. This theme moves in and out of the forefront of the music, but it is always there. It only varies slightly as it winds its way through the varying sections of saxophone by Sanders, occasionally interweaving with a variety of orchestral presentations. Although one can listen to individual movements, this is a piece of music created to be enjoyed from beginning to end. By the time the 46-minute piece is complete, the listener has travelled on a meditational journey of sound. It is simply beautiful and every listen provides a new sonic discovery.
And that wraps up the Radio Faux Show for 2021. I’ll be back next week to start Season Two with an In Memoriam collection of music by a bunch of great artists who died this year. There are hundreds of great artists who passed in 2021, so this will most likely be a two-part Faux Show and will cover a wide variety of music across the decades. In the meantime, have a happy and safe holiday. And, as always…
Thanks for listening (and reading)!
|2||The Hold Steady||Heavy Conenant|
|3||Dirty Honey||Take My Hand|
|4||Wet Leg||Chaise Longue|
|6||Brandi Carlile||Broken Horses|
|7||Adele||Can I Get It|
|8||Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio||Fo Sho|
|9||Aaron Frazer||Lover Girl|
|10||Durand Jones & The Indications||Love Will Work It Out|
|w11||Joan Armatrading||Natural Rhythm|
|14||William Shatner||Clouds of Guilt|
|16||Brandee Younger||Tickled Pink|
|17||Little Simz||I Love You, I Hate You|
|18||Floating Points & Pharoah Sanders (featuring London Symphony Orchestra)||Movement 2|
|20||Toumani Diabate & London Symphony Orchestra||Mama Souraka|
|21||The Mountain Goats||Dark In Here|
|22||Chrissie Hynde||Sweetheart Like You|
|23||Declan O’Rourke||The Stars Over Kinvara|
|25||black midi||Chondromalacia Patella|
|26||Psychedelic Porn Crumpets||Tally-Ho|
|28||Weezer||The End of the Game|
|29||Foo Fighters||Making A Fire|
|30||Jackson Browne||My Cleveland Heart|
|31||Bobby Ramone||Bye Bye Redemption|
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