Save the year 2021 enjoying amazing music from around the world – selected by our experts from around the world.
“As shitty as 2021 was,” writes one of our contributors, “the thing we could rely on was a constant output of quality music.”
Another one notes that while there’s still no sense of perspective, music “still is a shelter, a magical place where one can feel sad, thoughtful, happy, cautious, be with yourself or share your feelings and thoughts with others.”
We all hope you’ll enjoy this selection of amazing music from around the world. And if you do, tell your friends and help them save 2021.
Dillom – “Post Mortem”
Dillom was the biggest breakthrough of 2021 in Argentina. Member of Rip Gang collective – a group of very young local trappers – he started releasing music in 2018 and quickly escalated in the local trap scene (he was even invited by Bizarrap for one of his sessions with millions of views).
At the end of 2021, Dillom released his acclaimed debut LP “Post Mortem”, an overwhelming work of 18 songs framed in a conceptual autobiographic story which finds his own (symbolic) death as the point of start.
As if he was destroying his own past, Dillom found his rebirth in disturbing but moving songs with diabolic creatures living inside them. (Rodrigo Piedra)
The Finks – “The Moment the World Rushed In”
What happens to the introvert during a lockdown? What happens when the person already prone to self-isolation is forced to burrow deeper into isolation, this time by outside forces? If you’re Oliver Mestitz of The Finks, the answer, evidently, is to make a mainly instrumental record.
Under The Finks name, the Melbourne-based Mestitz had been releasing carefully-crafted music since 2012. Recalling the melancholic wit of Belle & Sebastian’s Stuart Murdoch, his songs were supreme songwriting compositions; later releases such as “Rolly Nice” though, his last full album from 2019, started to incorporate more instrumental pieces, nodding to a new sonic direction.
It culminated in “The moment the world rushed in”, a six-track EP released this September. Recorded during the tedium of last year’s lockdown, it contained five instrumentals surrounding the title track, the only track with vocals; the world rushed in and the words fell out. Mestitz turned his songwriter’s ears to new collected sounds – digital and analogue effects combined into one enveloping ambient wave. There are blinking synths and warm cassette loops; there is a mournful clarinet and a cooing cello.
There has always been a frail tenderness to the music of The Finks but these instrumentals don’t reduce the mellow beauty for the lack of words. The Finks and Mestitz feel wholly underrated in their generation but it seems to suit Mestitz, a quiet artist who makes art for art’s sake. (Conor Lochrie)
Other recommended albums:
• Amyl and the Sniffers – “Comfort to Me”
• Delivery – “Yes We Do”
• Maple Glider – “To Enjoy is the Only Thing”
• Genesis Owusu – “Smiling with No Teeth”
• Dag – “Pedestrian Life”
Mira Lu Kovacs – “What Else Can Break”
“Singer Mira Lu Kovas is one of the best female songwriters, voices of Austria. She was the main character of the Indie-Folk-Pop group Schmied’s Puls. Mira also act out her love for experimentation, avantgarde music and jazz with the innovative, critically acclaimed band 5K HD. And the Austrian female singer plays guitar and sings in the fabulous women indie-rock group My Ugly Clementine.
In 2021 she released her fist solo-record “What Else Can Break” under her name Mira Lu Kovacs. It is also her most personal work so far. “Stay A Little Longer” is the central track of the record, written while Mira was suffering from Covid. But the song is more about the inner soul-virus that many people suffer from. It’s about the struggle of not only accepting failure but also embracing it as an important part of life.
Recorded in her apartment all be herself with just acoustic guitar and her voice it has this intimate magic and fragility that touches the heart. We experience Mira’s crisis and her way out of it by staying a little longer with the troubling feelings and keeping the curiosity to see what happens next in life and so to see what else can break. The whole record is without any make-up, reduced in its instrumentation and with an ear-refreshing rawness. The Song “Stuck” with its sluggish drum-rhythm and the bony sounding guitar accords brings to mind how it feels, when you are unable to cry. The light and shimmering “84” reflect Mira Lu Kovacs older part of her soul that she felt already when she was a teenager.
Relationships and their emotional rollercoaster ride are talked about in the title “Most Beautiful Boy” and the up-tempo pop song “Want You” is the confession of deepest wishes and the courage to articulate them. Over all “What Else Can Break” with its wonderful, simple and at the same time emotional complex songs is an album that spreads hope and the clear message that loving and taking care of yourself is one of the most important and challenging things in life. And even if you don’t dig deep into the lyrics you can hear all the topics and feelings through the fantastic voice of Mira Lu Kovacs and the direct and intuitive way of recording it. A healing record that you can listen to over and over again. (Andreas Gstettner-Brugger, Radio FM4)
Tor Band – “Finita La Comedia”
This is without doubt the album of the year. Yes, it’s a boring, old-fashioned, primitive hard-rock that you might find extremely tedious. You wouldn’t be too wrong. However, it doesn’t matter as there are more important things than aesthetics.
Protesting Belarusian streets were singing songs from this very album. It’s a simple fact. “We are not scum, cattle, or cowards. We are the living nation, we are Belarusians.” (Konrad Erofeev)
Other recommended albums:
• Krama – “Zacmenny Blues”
• Kraa – “Capitalism or Death (an evening on the dusk of capitalism)”
• Rich Camomile – “Coma”
• Super Besse – “Temps Libre”
• Dlina Volny – “Dazed”
Meskerem Mees – “Julius”
Water is as simple as it is indispensable and provides life and enjoyment in countless different forms. Likewise, we will regularly see a single person (m/f/x) with nothing more than a guitar and evoke emotions that others cannot yet bring about with a battery of studio equipment.
Meskerem Mees proves this on her debut album “Julius”, a record full of aural brilliance that in 2021 served as musical lakes, streams, fountains, jacuzzis, refreshing rain showers and so on for many Belgian music lovers.
With this record, Meskerem Mees shows to be ready to sail the seven seas. “Julius” is an album that will stand the test of time without a hitch. (Brett Summers)
Ra Beat – “Panacea”
14 years after Mutaciones, Alvaro “Conejo” Arce returned in 2021 with his project Ra Beat, delivering a new studio album, his fifth in a career that started at the beginning of this century, shortly after his final departure from Llegas, the popular band he helped create back in the 90s.
Titled “Panacea”, a name coined in the midst of a pandemic, the eight-song album is an ambitious collection of songs recorded and produced on isolation, with Arce and the other two members – Paco Aguilar and Oscar Kellemberger – each contributing from their homes, as well as the different singers on the record did. The album’s co-producer, the always brilliant José Carlos Auza, also worked from home, with the whole country being on full lockdown due to the increasing Covid-19 cases.
With eight different singers, between national and foreign, “Panacea” was released on September 17th, preceded by two successful singles: “Puñal” (Spanish for ‘dagger’), with Auza on lead vocals, and “Bailo con Dios” (Spanish for ‘I dance with God’), with Daniel Abud handling the singing duties. Each of the singles with its accompanying videoclip, the former on April and the latter on May.
Loaded with samples, and moving between electronic music, pop, rock, folklore and trap, “Panacea” sounds modern and original and it stands as the best album in Ra Beat’s career. “Panacea” is the cure we needed, no matter how long it took it to arrive.” (Pato Peters)
BOSNIA & HERZEGOVINA:
Vladimir – “Vladimir”
After our last year’s pick – an album that won many awards and accolades across Europe, and comes from the category of world music – this year our choice also fell on an album from the same genre.
Vladimir is a music project created after the previous musical experience of artist and singer Vladimir Mićković – the experience of researching and reviving traditional themes and songs of mostly Sephardic musical tradition – collided with arranging and musical skills of multi-instrumentalist Adis Sirbubalo (you will find more of his contributions on this year’s best albums list).
Two of them are Vladimir, and they began to work together in 2020. On the eponymous album they were joined by several musicians and brought us a wonderful set of mostly traditional songs that underwent various transformations on the way from Andalusia to the Balkans. Three songs are renditions of legendary American singer-songwriter Flory Jagoda, who was born and raised in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
The first single, “Rikordus du mi nona”, is a tribute to this author who made some famous Sephardic songs, and promoted Sephardic and Bosnia-Herzegovina’s traditional music troughout all her career. (Samir Čulić)
Other recommended albums:
• Maja Milinković – “Kaftan D’alma”
• Basheskia & Edward EQ – “Seven lessons with Mehmed Begić”
• Frenkie – “Stari Frenkie”
• Adis Sirbubalo – “Adis Sirbubalo”
• Indigo – “Victoria”
Nocktern – “Scavengers”
Nocktern, a musical project started by Stoimen Stoyanov, now a band of three, released their most recent album in the spring and made one of the first indoor concerts in Sofia following an easing of the health measures.
“Scanvengers” is a rare album on the local scene, mostly because of the dynamic switching between genres and influences – in a single track, a dark ambient beginning might be followed by a jazzy piano and emphasized strings, while the guitars recall the golden age of industrial rock.
It’s an album of contradictions yet beautifully combined. (Svetoslav Todorov)
Marina Sena – “De Primeira”
In Brazil, Minas Gerais-born singer Marina Sena became a national phenomenon in 2021. This was all due to her debut album “De Primeira”, which brings an unique, affectionate and very inviting sound.
But it’s not like she was a total stranger before. Marina made some noise back in 2019 in the alternative pop scene with the Rosa Neon band, she has also celebrated her northern Minas Gerais’ roots with the unique sound of the project A Outra Banda da Lua. With her solo debut, the singer has combined her references and broke standards in the Brazilian pop scenario, bringing something smart and fluid in a refreshing tropical sound.
At a time when social networks present a fundamental opportunity for songs to reach bigger audiences, Marina was successful with the single “Por Supuesto”, which became the most popular song on the album. Overall, the singer’s lyrics and voice personality were the perfect combo that has helped creating catchy choruses that address themes ranging from love to spirituality and female empowerment. (Peagá Pinheiro)
Bon Enfant – “Diorama”
As shitty as 2021 was, the thing we could rely on was a constant output of quality music.
And Bon Enfant’s second effort “Diorama” was even better than their first, filled with solid musicianship and retro grooves, smoky vibes and the kind of feels that makes you wanna floor the gas pedal of your muscle car on a summer highway.
It’ll make you want to shake your hips and sway your hair, even if you’re bald like me. (Pierre-Alexandre Buisson)
Other recommended albums:
• Salomé Leclerc – “Mille ouvrages, mon coeur”
• Charlotte Cardin – “Phoenix”
• Choses Sauvages – “Choses Sauvages II”
• Louis-Jean Cormier – “Le ciel est au plancher”
• First Fragment – “Gloire Éternelle”
Camila Moreno – “Rey”
“Rey” is a concept album and the most ambitious record Camila has ever made, both in its sound and as an expression of feminism. Without neglecting love, it manifest the recent Chilean revolution.
Camila Moreno mixes alternative, electronic music, ballads and folk, which generates a journey from beginning to end, taking elements from other iconic musicians to create her own, original identity. (Marcelo Millavil M.)
Backspace 退格 – “Ants Corrupt Elephant” (群蚁蚀象)
Beijing’s Backspace engrosses on their sophomore release which takes the band’s paranoid-laced psych rock and turns it outwards, binding us together through our most primal feelings.
Cultivating the beauty within the chaos and embedded with an all-embracing empathy of the actions of both the humans and creatures that roam our planet – the unassuming six-eyed dragonfly, the patient desert lizard, the droning ants, the frenzied rabbit – the band strikes a chord that’s playful, invigorating, and filled with both wonder, urgency, and sly dissonance.
A cacophony of sounds bombards the senses and needle their way into our brain tissue as tropical birds call across the trees, dogs furiously bark in the background, synths buoyantly led us from one verse to another, and the swirl of guitars and drums throw listeners into a trance.
It’s the equivalent of dancing around a bonfire in the embrace of a humid, moon-lit jungle, high on the shared communal experience of music. (Will Griffith)
Other recommended albums:
• Salty Tomorrow 明天的盐 – “明天的盐”
• Fayzz – “Connection”
• Silent Speech 沉默演讲 – “Law of Instability/Orderly Chaos” 不稳定的规律/有序混沌
• THE BOOTLEGS 靴腿 – “幽灵的回访”
• Dirty Fingers 脏手指 – “Planet Dominica Vivavilli” 多米力高威威维利星
N.Hardem – “Verdor”
In a world full of superficial hits, with a music industry measured by trends and social networks that viralize lazy songs with lazy choreographies, listening to N.Hardem prevails like heaven.
“Verdor”, his first full-length album, is a chalice to be drunk calmly, a careful work by beats that seem to cinematically introduce a different universe in each song. Hardem proposes a versatile and unlimited dialogue with collaborations that distance themselves from the idea that a rap album should be the same from beginning to end.
The inclusion of voices such as Briela Ojeda, Edson Velandia, his brother Pablo Watusi, Lianna and Gambeta, speak of a creative spirit that feeds on everything that surrounds it, under the premise that the way of seeing the world is not unique, but the reflection and the sum of other ways of understanding the universe and that is “Verdor”: an intimate album, with the free association of thoughts, with reasonings as abstract as they are direct and with the immense capacity of N. Hardem to transcend, becoming inescapable.
Long live N.Hardem, a jewel amidst wealth impossible to ignore. (Sebastián Narváez Núñez)
Kensington – “Lima Southbound”
In 2021 we didn’t get so many amazing albums as we had in years before, but regardless of that, some albums have stood out. One of those albums is “”Southbound”” by Kensington Lima.
If you like old school music and bands such as The Beatles, The Beach Boys, The Kinks, Wilco, The Jayhawks and similar, you will very much enjoy in “Southbound”.
On the album, there are 10 perfect pop-rock songs with retro style and americana influences and one song over 10 minutes wich is progressive and psychedelic like Pink Floyd in their best days. (Siniša Miklaužić)
Other recommended albums:
• The Gentleman – “Hide & Seek”
• Bad Daughter – “Let me panic”
• Nemeček – “Prokletije”
• Tús Nua – “Nothing Personal”
• Šiza – “Pristojnost iz malog prsta izgubila se u srednjem”
Selected by: Boris Abramović (music-box), Predrag Brlek (Terapija), Dubravko Jagatić (Nacional), Ivan Laić (Ravno do dna), Gorav Pavlov (Ruralna gorila/Potlista), Siniša Miklaužić (Muzika.hr / beehype)
Oliver Torr – “Fragility of Context”
Prague-based producer Oliver Torr has been an omnipresent force in 2021, having participated on the compilation album Liptov, where he is one of the artists reinterpreting traditional folk songs, or starting a new project with Elvin Brandhi.
His debut album Fragility of Context” came out in February as an artistic reflection of the past five years and has cemented Torr as a key musician and collaborator in the region. (Viktor Palák)
Tigermor – “A Kind of Woman”
“Out of nowhere the Danish singer, songwriter and artist Camilla Bang, came, under the moniker Tigermor – which means tigermother in Danish. More because of the vicious, protective creature than the ones you see in a cage at your local zoo. And her debut – the minimalistic, lofi pop of “A Kind of Woman”, explores the story and the journey of the modern female, in nine fantastic poptunes.
From the Twin Peaks-esque fog of the acoustic tracks to the bedroom pop of “Everything WIll Grow Again”, Camilla Bang proves that she can make experimental sounds and exciting popmusic at the same time – it is kinda crazy how good it gets. But you can hear for yourself, when toykeyboards mixes with spastic drummachine-groves. (Simon Heggum)
Martox – “Se Siente Diferente”
In 2019, Martox, the singer/producer duo from Santiago de los Caballeros, presented their first EP, “Canciones que puedes usar en mi contra”. In this EP, they took samples from genres such as R&B, ballads and electronics that gave smoothness and sensuality to their sound. Now they bring us “Se siente diferente”, and immediately we feel a remarkable growth on their part as a band.
A long-awaited album that serves as a testimony of the niche that they have created for themselves in Dominican music and beyond. A mix of grooves, funk and nu-disco, it offers a sound and visual journey.
Apart from presenting us the faces of Juan Miguel and Eduardo Baldera, Martox has a team of fantastic collaborators, friends, producers, musicians and composers. For “Se Siente Diferente”, they had the talent of Adriano Sang, Jordy Sanchez, María Taveras (Yellow Outlet), Carlos Zouain (dis.Tant), Diego Raposo, Jonás and Gian Rojas (Solo Fernández), who also accompany the duo in two of the representative songs of this work: “Mucho Mejor” and “Pausa”.
“Se siente Diferente” is a tribute to friendship, to youth, to doing things now in the present moment. In this album no track is wasted. A step forward in the career of Martox, and the soundtrack of 2021. Let’s keep an eye on them and witness what they can and will be able to do in the local music scene. (Max Cueto)
Other recommended albums:
• Riccie Oriach – “Maquiné”
• Jonatan Piña Duluc – “Soudntrack Vol. I: Secuencia”
• Xiomara Fortuna – “Viendoaver”
• Techy Fatule – “Sie7e”
• Yendruy aquinx – “Experimental Disorder”
Jupiter & Okwess – “Na Kozonga”
This sparkling, even furious the funky way, record is so full of guests – like Chilean rapper Ana Tijoux, Brazil’s Marcelo D2 and Rogê, US West Coast soul singer Maiya Sykes and horn team of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band – this almost seems like one big party.
A party where many languages and fashions and life histories mingle, but nobody really cares about anything but having fun. “Na Kozonga” makes sure it will happen in your own home if you can’t enjoy a real party for a while. (Oumar Dembele)
Other recommended albums:
Alkaloides – “Astral Dopamina”
After 7 long years, Alkaloides brings their A-game in their sophmore album “Astral Dopamina”.
The groovy baselines and hard synths are all still there, but the heavily grandiloquent-oriented production makes “Astral Dopamina” stand out between their regiona peers, something that Alkaloides self-titled failed to do. (Martin Cordova)
Other recommended albums:
• Derian Dorian – “SI VOY DE A SOY B”
• Tombó – “Mosaico” EP
• Abbacook – “En Vivo Desde el Teatro Sánchez Aguilar”
• Archipiélago – “Archipiélago”
• Oleas – “Jerga y Miseria”
Maurice Louca – “Saet El Hazz (The Luck Hour)”
There are albums that really escape words, not as many of them as reviews would suggest, but this latest effort of Cairo legend Maurice Louca (موريس لوقا) and his fellow improvisers from Lebanese “A” Trio truly deserves this compliment.
“Saet El Hazz (The Luck Hour)” features a number of prepared instruments – prepared trumpet, prepared guitar, prepared double bass – and many other Louca uses to perform microtonally, and according to the official statement it “draws voraciously on Arabic music and psychedelic folk” – but you could add a dozen more tags here, including electronica, ambient music and drones.
First and foremost it’s a dialogue, and a successful one because there’s clearly more listening than talking in this company. Someting to appreciate also because this session was recorded a few months before the pandemic, which made such intimate, week-long all but impossible for time to come. (Lina Rim)
Other recommended albums:
Maarja Nuut – “Hinged”
Maarja Nuut is a singer, violinist, electronic artist, and composer whose work spans a vast range of musical worlds. Initially setting her foot in as a folk-stylist, she has found a new sonic language on “Hinged”, an album that came after a year of ancestral exploration, triggered by the musician’s inheritance of her grandmother’s farm.
Sorting through “five generations’ worth of personal possessions” and playing on the meaning of the bilingual title “Hinged” (“departed souls” in Estonian, “a link that holds things together” in English), prompted a curious interzone in the tradition of modern conceptronica, where past shows the way to the future. (Ingrid Kohtla, Tallinn Music Week)
Malla – “Malla”
Actor and indie artist Malla Malmivaara reinvents herself with a delightful ode to the dancefloor. Echoing perhaps the clinical electronic pop of the early 2000s, the album excels when reaching instead for the timeless elegance of deep house, warmth of bodies in motion rather than the cool café.
Dance music’s both space and headspace are charted by the meticulous production and her breathy vocals, respectively, with impressionist lyrics in Finnish that capture the thrilling, empowering sensation of being lost in the music.
For a labour of love that took years to make the album, “Malla” sounds remarkably effortless. Like that feeling you get when the room is dark and pulsating and the groove is just right, so that you simply close your eyes and let your body move.
Her earnest discovery is only made more poignant by how precious and precarious these moments are lately. (Erkko Lehtinen)
Malik Djoudi – “Troie”
Malik Djoudi has been pretty discreet during first years of his musical career. After having tried several experiences as a composer and singer for pop-rock bands Moon Pallas, Kim Tim and Alan Cock, he has now found his own style and some (deserved) recognition as a solo artist. In 2019, he even managed to invite the godfather of French new wave Étienne Daho and the great producer Philippe Zdar (Cassius) on his song “A Tes Côtés”.
His new album “Troie” is the culmination of all his recent experimentations: a sweet pop universe made of fragile but impactful grooves (“Point Sensible”) and warm filtered funk rhythms (“Vertiges”). His influences’ range also is impressive.
Not so many artists could succeed in gathering the wacky world of Philippe Katerine (our favourite 2019 French artist), the respected actress Isabelle Adjani and the vaporous flow of French rapper Lala &ce – also included in this albums list. Yet the amazing cohesiveness of “Troie” is proof that Malik has this ability and that great music is simply a universal language, transcending all barriers. (Gil Colinmaire)
Other recommended albums:
• Lala &ce – “Everything Tasteful”
• Musique Chienne – “Salle d’une fête”
• Clara Luciani – “Coeur”
• Feu! Chatterton – “Palais d’argile”
• Léonie Pernet – “Le cirque de consolation”
Ani Zakareishvili – “Mtirala”
As the pandemic allows more time for self-reflection, one can feel a subtle shift of the worldwide musical paradigm. While bangers may still occupy charts, listeners have also turned more attention to immersive, less immediate music that requires more attention. My year-end favourite, perhaps a one for the introverts, reflects this particular trend.
Ani Zakareishvili, a young electronic musician and Creative Education Studio (CES) alumnus, has made a remarkable album dedicated to Mtirala, a place (and a national park) in Georgia with the most rainfall. Synthesizing the modern ambience with manipulated folk samples and academic approaches creates a highly vivid aquatic feeling that gets to the core.
For many of us longing for an oft-denied getaway, this album can help imagine a discrete, primal purification of getting drenched in the pouring rain on the top of a wooded mountain. Beyond impressed, I only hope this treasure gets released on vinyl sometime. (Sandro Tskitishvili)
Other recommended albums:
• Sandro Tavartkiladze – “Qotnis Musika”
• Ana Jikia – “freezing of the universe, splitting of the sun”
• Organs & Oceans – “King Of Worms”
• mishvardi – “Patarika Satrpialo Juzikebi”
• Levan Shanidze – “Funeral Garden”
Sophia Kennedy – “Monsters”
Sophia Kennedy has liked monster stories ever since she was a kid, she says. And “Monsters”, that is also the title of her highly-expected sophomore album.
Sophia Kennedy was born in 1989, in Baltimore, Maryland, U.S., but grew up in Germany where she now lives in the northern seaport city Hamburg. If you think of Sophia Kennedy’s songs as little monsters, Sophia Kenney, like a good shepherd, has her monster flock firmly under control thanks to her breathtaking soul voice. Her lyrics are filled with humor, which undermines the overly simple reading of those monsters as trauma demons. Even though she does deal with death on the album, too.
Sonically, Sophia Kennedy makes use of an extremely wide range of frequencies, from fickle guitar to trap-inspired beats and dance vibes – some shift away from her debut album that clearly was based upon piano compositions. She clearly must have listened a lot to both Tyler, the Creator and Jessica Pratt in the meantime.
This genius record sounds as if Ella Fitzgerald, Tracy Chapman and Erykah Badu met each other by time travel. In the future. (Stefan Hochgesand)
Alostmen – “Kologo”
Alostmen is a relatively new project of Stevo Atambire who explores the tradition of Fra Fra people (from northern Ghana) with traditional instruments – like kologo, goje fiddle, talking drum, gome box, djembe and conga – but almost revolutionary approach as his young ears and heart are all into reggae or hip-hop as well.
What describes his band’s debut best though is vitality, as each listen of “Kologo” works like a booster for whatever you might be wanting to do at the moment – dance, work, do some jogging. But this album is here also make you think:
“We are Alostmen because we were lost in the street, the forgotten people,” says Stevo. “People at home see music as a teaching so I always try give my community hope to achieve.” (T. Mecha)
Jan van de Engel – “Streams”
Yooooooowzers, this year’s craziness and chaos probably played their role in our final list with the best Greek albums of 2021. I am not sure if I ever remember so many different suggestions from my fellow colleagues from Greece, during the last years’ process. But definitely, we had one common thing to share. Our passion and love for fine albums. And some of them made it to our beloved annual list so that you can enjoy as well while entering 2022.
“Streams” is an album that may remind you of 2021, as they both are memorable, unpredictable, and you are never sure how they will evolve. But hopefully, the music here leaves you with shiny and warm feelings, electrified tickles that engage your brain, instead of fear, insecurity and scars that can’t be healed.
Jan van de Engel, aka Yannis Angelopoulos, is a drummer-composer based in Athens, and his latest project consists of nine compositions. He created them a few days after the end of the first lockdown, with his fellow musicians Paraskevas Kitsos (bass), Vangelis Stefanopoulos (piano) and Fotis Siotas (violin, viola, voice), and they are mainly a live jam session of spontaneous compositions and improvisations.
“Streams” was released in June by Teranga Beat, a fascinating record label based in Senegal, which highlights fusion music from locals, coming from Greece and African countries, like Ethiopia and Gambia. The album is a cross-cultural project between western jazz, traditional Greek music, folk, cinematic atmospheres and it squeezes out the maximum juice from its distinguished musicians.
The album is like the fresh flowing water of a river whirring in perfect balance, with wonderful textural developments, multiple layers and a psychedelic flavour that does not outshine the richness of its melodies. Each time you listen to the songs, something new comes over, and that’s a priceless thing.
And while you are enjoying the pluralism of Jan van de Engel’s album, you can also indulge with your full attention in Green Was Greener’s album “Introspective”, a hypnotic debut that made it almost to the top, and which we had presented to you on beehype a couple of months ago. (Ares Buras)
Other recommended albums:
• Post Lovers – “Drive”
• Pan Pan – “Φαντασμαγορία Δύο”
• Whereswilder – “Movement In Place”
• Athens Computer Underground – “The Crying Game”
• OIKOI2310 – “ΝΟΥΣ ΟΡΑ ΚΑΙ ΝΟΥΣ ΑΚΟΥΕΙ”
• Vault of Blossomed Ropes – Etidorhpa”
Selected by: Aggelos Kleitsikas (avopolis.gr, rollingstone.gr), Antonis Xagas (mic.gr), Ares Buras (beehype), Dimitris Lilis (mypodcasts.avopolis.gr), Markos Fragos (gone4sure, rollingstone.gr), Michalis E (Rodon Fm), Marianna Vasileiou (mic.gr), Panagiotis Stathopoulos (diskopatheiaa, progrocks.gr)
Mabe Fratti – “Será que ahora podremos entendernos”
Released two years ago, “Pies sobre la tierra”, the debut album of Guatemalan composer and cellist Mabe Fratti (she’s been living in Mexico City for many years now) was a success that now made the whole world pay attention to the follow up. And rightly so.
On “Será que ahora podremos entendernos”, she extends her experiments with her voice, cello and synths, and even birds. The result is as breathtaking as tranquilizing, and secretly helps us redirect to what Mabe wants to promote: simplicity. (Ana C.)
Serrini – “GWENDOLYN”
There’s a number of prominent Hong Kong bands who’ve been silent for a longer while and hopefully the reason doesn’t need to be explained, but there is still some music great music coming out here to bring some relief.
For many years now Serrini has been known for her hits, dynamic and direct. “GWENDOLYN” is full of them and might be useful during parties if you’re lucky to have some these days. But she’s actually most enjoyable when going into whispers, silence and secresy – like in the opener “Liáoyuán 燎原”. (Charlie Chen)
Kef LAVÍK – “Eilífur snjór í augunum”
Kef LAVÍK‘s “Eilífur Snjór í Augunum”, an ambitious EP, reads more above ground than their previous works. In the past few years, the band has gained a kind of a gen Z cult status in the country, with an ever-growing core of mesmerized fans.
On their new album, the band retains its unique characteristics in bold approach and style, but still, one could distinguish high-quality well ripened love poems amid stories of sex, drug use and mental crisis. (Nina Richter)
RANJ, Cliffr, Issamood – “593, Vol I”
One of the big questions the pandemic posed was if one could enjoy live music the same way ever again. As India went deeper into the Covid spiral, coupled with passive masking and its associated acts of no-fucks-given, the live gigs and gatherings seemed even further away. A few months after clubs, venues and gigs were back in full swing, I gathered the courage to step out and check out some live music.
RANJ and Cliffr were performing in my city for the first time ever, and the idea of checking out a lineup of new acts was too hard to pass by. RANJ’s stage presence, Cliffr’s punchy production and the overall smoothness of the act made them more engaging than most pros, or what I remembered of live music.
Now, I don’t know if it was the thrill of watching live music again, or they were just that good, but I was hooked. Chennai by way of some West Coast R&B, RANJ’s lyricism and flow was like a thunderbolt, finding itself perfectly on top and in the pockets of Cliffr’s production. Rapper Tintin throws in a good surprise on their track “Schoolbus” as well. EP opener “Attached” is a certified banger, but the whole package is worth repeated plays.
Ranjani Ramadoss (RANJ), Clipher Christopher (Cliffr) and Samudra Dasgupta (Issamood) throw up one of the best EPs of the year. I’m excited to see what more this camp throws up. (Naman Saraiya)
Lomba Sihir – “Selamat Datang di Ujung Dunia”
You don’t have to be from Jakarta to enjoy “Selamat Datang di Ujung Dunia”, but it definitely helps. The debut album from Lomba Sihir – formerly known as Hindia’s backing band and now includes him as a member – is a 12-song ode to the hometown of this six-piece of Jakarta music scene heavy hitters – Hindia (vocals, synth), Natasha Udu (vocals), Rayhan Noor (vocals, guitar), Wisnu Ikhsantama (bass, vocals), Tristan Juliano (keyboards, vocals) and Enrico Octaviano (drums) – with all the love and hate it entails.
From the bombastic opening title track to the melancholy of closer “Tidak Ada Salju di Sini, Pt. 6 (Selamat Jalan)”, “Selamat Datang di Ujung Dunia” cycles through an eclectic array of pop styles while touching on subjects that will hit close to home, especially if you’re in your mid-twenties and trying to make sense of life in the big city. “Hati dan Paru-Paru” takes you gliding through the city streets while warning you not to be fooled by the bright lights; “Apa Ada Asmara” soundtracks the seemingly never-ending quest for romance; the jittery electro-pop of “Jalan Tikus” essays the ways, means and shortcuts that people resort to in order to get ahead; “Semua Orang Pernah Sakit Hati” offers an uplifting shoulder to cry on and drown your broken-hearted sorrows with.
After listening to Lomba Sihir’s take on life in Jakarta, you might wonder why anyone would want to live there. But as their song “Mungkin Takut Perubahan” goes, sometimes you might find more comfort in the devil you know than the one you don’t. And once you find comfort in “Selamat Datang di Ujung Dunia”, you’ll find yourself wanting to make return visits. (Hasief Ardiasyah)
IRAN (& AFGHANISTAN):
Unlucky Ninjas – “Tehran-Kabul”
While the Taliban were capturing Afghanistan in a tragic way, a group of young Iranian musicians who were interested in folk and pop music of Afghanistan, teamed up with Suraya Hussaini (Soori), a young singer-instrumentalist and fashion student who lived most of her life in diaspora in Iran to narrate “the tale of a musical journey between Iranian and Afghanistani culture”.
Arash Zarabi, producer and upright bass player and Mohammad Pasandideh, guitar and trumpet player who tried to create microtones by sticking toothpick on the fretboard of his guitar, learned several tunes from a collection of Afghanistani songs that they dug into and from Soori and her father Ebrahim who joined them with his dutar. The other members of the group were Aren Sarkisian on sax and Mohammad Mola Vali on percussions.
The result of this creational coexistence is Unlucky Ninjas debut called “Tehran-Kabul”, alternative folk-rock in form of a sonic magazine published by Made In Iran Records at the end of 2021. (Ali Eshqi)
Other recommended albums:
• Quartet Diminished – “Station Three”
• Saba Alizadeh – “I May Never See You Again”
• Hesam Inanlou – “A Lament for Existence”
• Hamed Behdad & Masoud Fayyazzadeh – “Nothingness in Abundance”
• Taraamoon – “Bādbān”
Bar Tzabary (בר צברי) – “רוקנרול בצהריים”
Bar Tsabari’s long-awaited second LP is worth the hype the band has earned with their singles. Full of exciting eastern influences, awesome guitars and a little bit of nostalgia, it’s exactly what the scene needs, taking the pular style called Mizrahit, or Mediterranean Sea music, to a deeper level, and showing the true potential of the genre that combines Israeli music with Greek, Turkish, and Arabic influences.
The song called “”Nisosot”” (ניצוצות), fourth on the album, is most definitely one of the best Hebrew songs of 2021, much more worthwhile than the general radio trends. (David Michaelov)
Iosonouncane – “Ira”
It’s not easy to sound uncomprimising and easy listening at the same time, but Jacopo Incani made it in this mammoth of an album (17 tracks in almost two hours). It’s dark, complex, articulated and challenging from start to finish, but it’s not hard at all to get along and pace your feelings with it.
Extremism and experimentalism need to have a purpose to be really meaningful, and with this album, the mission is definitely accomplished. (Stefano Bartolotta & Indie Roccia)
ALL OF THE WORLD – “lull”
Minimal techno / click house style of All of the World sounds simple when you listen to if for the first time, but over time, it gradually moves you emotionally.
This Nagoya-based post-rock / electronic trio released their new album “lull” after 13 years since their previous record was out. They’ve almost stopped playing guitar since then, but they keep paying homage to shoegaze bands like My Bloody Valentine or lo-fi alternative rock bands like Pavement. On the other hand, some tracks do have the feeling of minimal folktronica like Four Tet.
Because of the pandemic, they made this new album remotely, with their lap tops. I can’t stop listening repeatedly to these repetitive beats in my room. But if it’s possible, I wanna listen to this music in a live venue or in a large museum with proper sound reflection. (Toyokazu Mori)
alejas – “austrālija”
As we are still living in turbulent times, we are confused and there is no sense of perspective, music is one of the things that has not lost its power – it communicates and talks to listener, it is a strong shoulder to rely on. In short – music still is a shelter, a magical place where one can feel sad, thoughtful, happy, cautious, be with yourself or share your feelings and thoughts with others.
And Latvian poetical electropop band alejas in their album “austrālija” has created such magical space where listener can lock himself in and contemplate on everything that is happening in person’s mind or reflect on events that are happening in outer world. alejas’ music is tranquil and serene with a pinch of dreary and murky notes. Just like the world we live in. (Raivis Spalvēns)
Postcards – “After The Fire Before The End”
Lebanese dream-pop trio Postcards’ third full-length album “After the Fire, Before the End” was released in October 2021, preceded by the first single “Home Is So Sad” a few months earlier. Written between January 2020 and January 2021, the album is a record of the devastating year that Lebanon witnessed, through the eyes of the band.
“Home Is So Sad” is a violent force, standing on the threshold between painful anger and majestic discharge, teetering between elegiac vocals, serrated guitar lines, and mighty drums. (Ziad Nawfal)
Acetantina – “Carmen Winstead”
Tripoli-based Libyan-German producer Kaizo Ziad decided to release the last album under the nickname Acetantina and without doubt is a successful ending, while a very experimental one. Unpredictable, often distressing, it’s a symphony of ambient, glitch and other darker shades of dance.
Based around the popular story of “Carmen Winstead”, it’s also a concept album adding another layer to this unnerving yet fascinating experience. (Lina Rim)
Simas Okas – “Plexihog”
Troubled times turned out to be great for new brilliant music. Worldwide as well as in Lithuania. It seems that one third of Lithuanian artists released or are about to drop their fresh albums soon. But for those who really want to dig deeper, I kindly suggest spending a half an hour with “Plexihog”.
A debut album by Simas Okas is a pure gem, hidden away in the depths of a murky swamp. Floating in his mud exotic can make you feel excellent or bizarre, though you will definitely meet some creatures that exist only in your fantasy.
The best part of it – the album is so rich in the new species, forms, shapes and colors, both natural and synthetic, that the more you listen, the deeper the swamp gets. (Giedre Nalivaikaite)
No Good – “Punk Gong”
Taking cues from their punk heroes The Clash, Malaysian/Kelantanese punk band No Good greatly expands their own sonic boundaries tremendously on their full length debut “Punk Gong”, and perhaps even the genre itself, by incorporating elements of hardcore, reggae and even folk into a concise melting pot that at times threatens to detonate the system into a million pieces.
This is punk music by the people for the people. (Adrian Yap)
Samba Touré – “Binga”
Songhai music seems more alive than even and its most magnificent emanation in the recent year was delivered by guitarist Samba Touré, one of those lucky ones who’ve played with Ali Farka Touré.
He recorded his latest album “Binga” – a place in Tomboctou region where he grew up – almost all by himself. So that’s mostly his acoustic guitar blues embellished with his vocals, percussion and ngoni, sometimes harmonica.
“Binga” is soft and airly like binga’s open spaces, and it’s as hypnotizing. (Oumar Dembele)
Diles que no me maten – “La Vida De Alguien Más”
If in their debut album the Mexican band Diles que no me maten limited itself to capturing the chaos of the city, in their most recent record entitled “La Vida De Alguien Más”, they portray the mental chaos caused by living in a city on the verge of collapse, polluted and full of vices.
Jonás Derbez’s poems put us in the shoes of a person trying to free himself from the monotony and routine of everyday life, in each song the protagonist of the album breaks the chains that keep his feet tied to the cement until finally he achieves emancipation and physical and psychological autonomy. (Luis Felipe Maceda)
Guedra Guedra – “Vexillology”
Casalablanca producer, DJ and sound artist Abdellah M. Hassak delighted us with a fantastic EP “Son of Sun” last year but it was just the first taste what was about to come with his proper full-length debut as Guedra Guedra (كدرة كدرة) called “Vexillology”.
This impressive record is composed around percussion acrobatics blended with tribal sampling and psychedelia, offering a non-stop delusional music trip across cultures and mental states. (Lina Rim)
Altin Gün – “Yol”
Amsterdam-based band Altin Gün, founded in 2016 by bass player Jasper Verhulst, is known for their fuzzy and psychedelic renditions of traditional Turkish songs. And while 2020 was going to be the year that they would play at Coachella festival, the group ended up isolated and separated at home that year.
The plus side of lockdown was that the members had a lot of time to work on their new record “Yol” (“Path”). Recording their parts seperately and sending it to each other, the record ended up being a lot more electronic than their previous work. From the gloomy “Ordunun Dereleri” to the super funky “Yüce Dağ Başında”, the album sees Altin Gün exploring a more synth driven 80s sound.
“Yol” is packed with jams from front to back and definitely deserves to be named best Dutch album of 2021. And if that wasn’t enough yet, last summer the band also released the companion album “Âlem” which is a Bandcamp-only release with all the proceeds going to a project that protects nature. Well done, Altin Gün! (Jort Mokum)
NEW ZEALAND / AOTEAROA :
Mara TK – “Bad Meditation”
“Bad Meditation” is the first proper solo album from the Māori-Scottish singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer Mara TK, best known for his past work in the future soul trio Electric Wire Hustle. From the first guitar notes of the intro, the record unfolds as an exquisite, beautifully arranged suite of psychedelic soul music with a reverence for the past and a desire to push forward.
Because this is soul music, “Bad Meditation” begins with pain and one hell of an opening gambit of a first line, “My problems got their own problems”, on album opener ‘Highly Medicated’. That confession lays the foundations for a thirteen-song reflection on a lifetime of love, loss and eventual healing, all filtered through the lens of Mara’s indigenous experience. Complimenting this, Mara and an extensive cast of collaborators (befittingly given the number of projects he has contributed to over the last decade) take soul, jazz and folk-rooted frames and stretch them into driving, celestial shapes, all sequenced in a cinematic style.
From ‘Highly Medicated’ to album closer ‘Met At the River’ (Mara’s solo version), reflective observations in the mode of Marvin Gaye and Donny Hathaway are commonplace across “Bad Meditation”. Refreshingly though, they come wedded to pastoral psychedelic folk-rock in the style of Arthur Lee’s Love band, music box melodies and machine drums that recall the beats experimentation of The Soulquarians. There are even moments of orchestral lounge music that wouldn’t sound amiss on a record from the famed Rotorua crooner Deane Waretini.
‘Grew Up Inna Chaos’, a rumination on an unstable childhood, features guest vocals from Mara’s nephew 2MY. Meanwhile, ‘Every Hori Is A Star’ and ‘Met At The River’ see Mara sharing respective song space with fellow Māori singer-songwriter and guitarist Troy Kingi and the Kenyan R&B singer and songwriter Xenia Manasseh. Listen closer, and you’ll hear contributions from the jazz drummer/techno producer Cory Champion, Wellington singer-songwriter Louis Baker, bassists Johnny Lawrence and Crete Haami, multi-instrumentalist and producer Riki Gooch, the dearly departed guitar hero Aaron Tokona, and Mara’s father, Billy TK Snr.
For Mara, the son of Aotearoa New Zealand’s greatest psychedelic rock guitarist, and a former hip-hop battle DJ who opened for 50 Cent and G-Unit before reinventing himself as a singer-songwriter, “Bad Meditation” is a watershed work. As the album unfolds in a lush and expansive style, the psychedelic soul sound he has spent the last decade chasing unfurls in a rich, panoramic style. Excitingly though, for as much as it gives away, every revelation comes partnered with a hint at further depths beneath the surface. This album is something to celebrate, but the story presented here is far from over. (Martyn Pepperell)
Other recommended albums:
• MĀ – “Breakfast With Hades”
• Milk – “III”
• Maxine Funke – “Seance”
• christoph el’ truento – “live from the cloudy subtropical”
• Kōtiro – “High-Def Multinational”
Mdou Moctar – “Afrique Victime”
Saharan singer-songwriter Mdou Moctar has been consistent both about sound and quality over the last decade or so, with almost no low points in his discography yet. “Afrique Victime” is a great addition to his catalogue and another masterpiece of Tishoumaren blues mixed with desert psychedelia.
If you feel this album might be harsher at some points than his previous material, and a bit low kay in some others, this could be because Mdou Moctar takes on the issue of political inequality and demonstrates burning concern about his homeland. (T. Mecha)
JazzZ – “Black Religion”
Hanjara Atta, one of Lagos scene’s most prominent new talents, decided to make another short (25 minutes) but intense album, mixing anything she loves in neo-soul, R&B, hip-hop and fund, but giving them shape and weight with stories she’s hearing in her city and issues it is coping with.
On “Black Religion” she’s worked with Nigerian producers, Black Intelligence and Nasser Sani, but also Karl Forest from Tokyo. The result somehow feels both familiar – let’s mention Erykah Badu – and fresh. (T. Mecha)
Lelee – “Čuka bije pumpa”
“Some would say: it’s Slovenian album of the year, and others that’s actually Serbian. I agree with them all. It’s No.1 in the region! “Čuka bije pumpa” (Moonlee Records, Ill in the Head Records, 2021) is a fantastic 33-minute ride from Bitola, through Belgrade, all the way to Ljubljana.
Lelee is a playful indie / post-punk trio, whom we know from projects such as TRUS !, Borghesia, Rush to Relax, Molokai, and Balans. Lelee are Jelena Rusjan on vocals and bass, Damjan Manevski on vocals and guitar, and Jan Kmet on drums. The band originally revives the old spirit of Balkan rock and roll, most notably through temperamental lyrics that unite their mother tongues. Through culture, they created a strong bond and united the Balkan countries once again.
“Čuka bije pumpa” is inspiring sweet addiction. Their songwriting is emotional, honest, and straightforward characterized with catchy refrains in Serbian and Macedonian. Languages intertwine, emotions jump from ecstasy to mild nostalgia… The album also features Andrej Fon on saxophone, Blaž Gracar on synthesizer, and Uroš Milkić on synthesizer and in the role of backing vocalist. After the release, they played in almost every town in Slovenia and toured the Balkans.
“No matter how corrupt, greedy, and heartless our government, our corporations, our media, and our religious and charitable institutions may become, the music will still be wonderful.” As if Kurt Vonnegut wrote this line for the ex-Yugoslavian countries. (Elena Peljhan)
Benedikt – “Balcony Dream”
This year’s most sentimental and dreamy album arrived from an indie folk band made up by nine musicians from Oslo and Surnadal.
With ”Balcony Dream“ Benedikt proves how they have developed since their 2019 debut ”Communal Work“. The production is intricate and captivating. The soundscape is tactile and organic, with strumming guitar, banjo, an old piano, violins and cello. In the center of it all is Hans Olav Settem’s whispering vocals. The album also features some guest appearences. We’re treated with Tuvaband’s sore vocals and mysterious tremolo guitar by Ola Øverby.
Benedikt stands out in the Norwegian music flora with their bittersweet and emotional appeal, and their large ensemble. The rich soundscapes goes hand in hand with authentic lyrics about love and friendship. ”Balcony Dream“ is DIY done right, released by Koke Plate, founded by Benedikt’s banjo player.
Settem is the brain of the band, or more precisly, it’s heart. He is a skilled songwriter with a clear aesthetic vision. The result is a melancholic, cinematic and well crafted album of international caliber. (Edvard Granum Dillner)
Other recommended albums:
• White Ascot – “Pink Blood / False Memory”
• Beharie – “Beharie // Beharie”
• Jimi Somewhere – “Nothing Gold Can Stay”
• Solå – “Feel What I Feel”
• Bård Berg – “Oslo Beats Vol II”
Misbah – “Woh Hai Kahaan”
The four-song EP “Woh Hai Kahaan” by Misbah has the power to transport you to another realm for almost 20 minutes as you feel time slow down. It definitely leaves the listener with a feeling of wanting more calm that this EP brings, but the fact that there has been a new EP at all is worth noting and celebrating, what with covid and the overall impact it has had on artists and performers. It hasn’t been easy, but Misbah proves that it’s possible.
The EP also features other artists like Janoobi Khargosh, Zahra Paracha, Fatima Khan and E.t Lone, which was a nice little touch of indie, dream pop collaborative magic. What strikes one the most when listening to “Woh Hai Kahaan” is that it’s not providing another cookie-cutter solution to the lack of albums in Pakistan. This is a genre very new to the local music scene, and has to cut through the sound that has become a go-to style for some rising artists in the country.
It may take some getting used to, but once you do, “Woh Hai Kahaan” will leave you feeling whole. Listening to music can also be a form of meditation and this EP is a good way to experience that. (Zahra Salah Uddin)
Sofía Kourtesis – “Fresia Magdalena”
“Fresia Magdalena” is the latest release of the Peruvian based in Berlin. Although her music has always evoked personal connections, Sofía Kourtesis says this time she uses the machines to speak a language, and through that she evokes her family memories.
It’s mainly about the relationship with her father, who was a lawyer – a social activist who’s been involved in issues related to abuses of authoritarian power – and who has passed away recently. (José Luis Mercado)
zild – “Huminga”
zild’s “Huminga” is a breath of fresh air, taken at a time when things feel extremely dire.
It is most certainly one of the most important records of 2021 in the Philippines, delivering a more raw and organic sound from the IV Of Spades singer-bassist that can take listeners back to better days. (Bandwagon Asia)
Błoto – “Kwasy i zasady”
For a side-project formed spontaneously by four members of the EABS septet during their concert tour, Błoto are an incredibly productive band. Even more importantly, they consistently come through in terms of creating high-quality content. “Kwasy i zasady” (Acids and alkalis) is their third album in two years, and it might be their best yet.
Not that their music underwent any profound transformations; rather, it simply got tighter and bolder than before. Hip-hop and jazz still form the basis of Błoto’s sound, but on “Kwasy i zasady” it’s the former that becomes even more prominent. The beats are at the center, raw and hard-hitting, imbuing the music with rhythmic urgency, and the solo parts only pump up the intensity.
There’s not a weaker moment on the album, which keeps the listener spellbound all the way through. A confident display of how a genre-defying instrumental music should sound in the twenty-first century. (Artur Szarecki & Mariusz Herma)
Other recommended albums:
• delay_ok – “Modern Uganda” / “Erozje”
• Oxford Drama – “What’s the Deal with Time?”
• Piotr Damasiewicz & Into the Roots – “Warta”
• Resina – “Speechless”
• Rycerzyki – “Zniknij na zawsze”
Pedro Mafama – “Por Este Rio Abaixo”
“Por Este Rio Below” is a record full of Portuguese sounds, punctuated here and there with a modern and urban touch, and where Pedro Mafama’s songs encompass a relaxed but involving, universal sound. The songs tell stories, set dramas to music and drink in fado the sadness that is complemented by Pedro Mafama’s own involvement.
Nobody saves Pedro from Mafama but that the songs are not from Mafama this is a reality, irreverent and far from the banal and traditional, deep down, it asserts itself as a kind of loudspeaker. (Paulo Homem de Melo, Glam Magazine)
José Ciénaga – “Amor Fiebre”
José Ciénaga is no stranger to musical introspection in harrowing times. His first foray into the realm of experimental ambient music – ”Isla Eterna” (Discos Diáspora, 2018) – was largely crafted during the longest recorded blackout in Puerto Rican history, a memorialization of Hurricane María’s devastating passage through the Island back in 2017. The self-released “Amor Fiebre” (Love Fever) arriving in the middle of a global pandemic is then just par for the course.
The artist’s first propper record under his new José Ciénaga moniker, “Amor Fiebre” is lusher and more expansive than its predecessor, both by necessity and design. The need to connect – to dance with strangers in a darkened room – is at the heart of this collection of sweaty, beat-driven songs. Desire erupts in lusty vocalizations, synths commingle and crash against each other, swaying smoothly one moment, then nervously skittering away the next.
It’s the perfect pandemic album in the way it captures the longing for lost experiences and turns that into excitement for what’s to come. (Alfredo Richner)
Mytyshi V Ogne – “Horosho U Nas V Adu”
“Horosho U Nas V Adu” (“Everything Is Great In Hell”) is vibrant, catchy, adventurous story of modern life in Russia. Ironic, dramatic and unpredictable.
Moscow band Mytyshi V Ogne (мытищи в огне, Mytyshi On Fire) easily mix everything in their own hellish cauldron: punk, emo, metal and of course patton-core.
There only two ways: you will love it or hate it. (Artem Shenfeld, Другая Музыка)
MSYLMA & ISMAEL – “The Tenets of Forgetting”
Two years ago MSYLMA shocked the world with “Dhil-un Taht Shajarat Al-Zaqum”, an album full of connotations from Qur’an and religious backgrounds, which has become especially popular outside of the region – among listeners free of pre-conceived judgements.
That debut by Mecca-based producer and singer-songwriter was a unique piece of music unlike anything we’ve heard across the MENA scene and beyond, and it’s also true about the follow-up called “The Tenets of Forgetting” (ب النسيان).
His first collaboration producer and composer ISMAEL who worked with MSYLMA’s voice – singing in classical Arabic- to give it a proper entourage of heavy synths and electro kicks. (A.S.)
Wau Wau Collectif – “Yaral Sa Doom”
About three years ago one Swedish producer visited one fishing village in Senegal to record improvisations of local musicians. Then he came back home and polished that precious material, still working with them remotely.
This year we finally heard the results of that mutual adventure which involved over 20 musicians, for whom African jazz, blues, avant-garde, dub and sufi songs are all like “different species of fish swimming around, but together they make the ocean”. (Oumar Dembele)
Other recommended albums:
KOIKOI – “Pozivi u stranu”
Award for the best Serbian album goes to Belgrade four-piece KOIKOI. Very talented youngsters managed to create special, eclectic sound which you should really experience at live shows.
They have skillfully combined heavy industrial riffs with electropop hooks, krautrock with angry guitars and above all, they’ve added parts of traditional Serbian music.
The band sounds great either in slower and calm parts either while cool indie/disco rhythm vibrates in the back either when volcano distortion goes all over the songs.
Those unconventional arrangements and thirst for experimentation are their great strength and hopefully they will continue to expand that in the future. (Nemanja Nešković)
Kaye – “Distant Dancefloor”
As a co-founder of house label Darker Than Wax, it’s mostly by his own accord that multi-instrumentalist Kaye (Kevin Guoh) hadn’t yet issued his own wares extensively. There are large antecedents here – the performer-producer has largely spent his time leaning into remixes, thriving first on live improvisation over polished releases. But without the former, the Singapore scene vet has birthed a response in the form of debut album “Distant Dancefloor”, calling to arms heavyweights to aid his first foray into an elaborate body of work.
A celebrated saxophonist (amongst other jazz inclinations/electronic machinations), Guoh sent nightclubs to their utmost peak, often inviting international vets like KiNK, Kerri Chandler, Motor City Drum Ensemble and many more to bolster the local circuitry with flavour. This reversal meant the selector had more than just his prior CV to draw artistry from, employing the angst and anguish from banned night hubs that was so often home, to then fill his canvas.
What that’s produced are works that are larger than the island state’s current appetite for them, the 8-tracker EP shimmying in celebration, then upending the narrative in rage. These are weapons of dance, ready to slice the scene back open. (Leland Tan, Bandwagon Asia)
NOXORI – “Indigo Waters”
NOXORI are Blanch and Duch, both of the musicians have their solo projects and this is a special output they united in. “Indigo Waters” is a debut album which offers authentic contribution of both of their musical approaches serving us melancholy and restlessness over fresh beats.
Swimming through NOXORI’s waters you might pass and enjoy mainly Blanch’s exceptional voice and Duch’s singing / rapping (we could even use more of).
SBO – “Trans”
From the get-go, SBO has been designed to provoke. The group’s full name, Smrt boga in otrok, literally translates to “Death of God and Children”. The street-smart intellectuals with roots in theater and improv have been showcased as the enfants terrible of Slovenian trap, mainly for their hyperbolic mythologizing of drug-fueled escapades in the Ljubljana nightlife. But this year, the quintet’s first proper full-length raises the stakes with an ambitious, if somewhat loose, concept.
“Trans” as the Slovenian political transition, as gender identity, but most of all as trance – in both the mental and musical sense. Appropriately, the production draws amply on dancey ’90s electronica to create a catchy interplay of dark beats and bright synths. These trippy plains serve as a playground where the performers can plunder the Slovenian popcultural arsenal for lines out of the underground and mainstream alike.
At times, the line between homage and parody blurs, as is fitting for the post-everything aura surrounding the album. But it doesn’t all have to be so meta: especially the singles “Psihonaut” and “Postaja F” also function as full-blown bangers, begging to be played on the dancefloors of the same dirty, smoke-filled clubs the record keeps bringing up. And yes, its characters may continuously fry their brains with psychotropics to escape the bland day-to-day, but nonetheless remain resigned to life in their home country.
It’s a love-hate relationship Slovenians know intimately – and this is exactly where SBO hits a nerve. Do you feel sLOVEnia? (Matej Holc, selection by ex-HrupMag team and friends)
Urban Village – “Udondolo”
This special quartet from Soweto, consisting of Tubatsi Mpho Moloi (vocals and flute), Lerato Lichaba (guitars and vocals), Xolani Mtshali (drums and vocals) and Simangaliso Dlamini (bass), offered us a spectacular album this year and helped somehow enjoy 2021.
As it always has, “fusion” is the best word to describe their style, unless you associate this term with rootlessness or placelessness – oh, that’s the last thing you could say about Urban Village. Their inspirations may span across genres and continents, but their music is 100% Soweto style and you’ll know it after the first minute of “Udondolo”.
While we recommend you spend the next 48 minutes with “Udondolo” in its entirety, “Dindi” is a great first taste and one of the album’s highlights as well as official video off the album. It “promotes people of all colours to be proud in the very skin that they are in, no matter the shade and texture”. Thank you, Urban Village. (Thomas Mecha)
Other recommended albums:
• Alice Phoebe Lou – “Child’s Play”
• BLK JKS – “Abantu / Before Humans”
• Malcolm Jiyane Tree-O – “Umdali”
• Reinhardt Buhr – “The Space Between”
• Native Soul – “Teenage Dreams”
조율 (Joyul) – “Earwitness”
Somewhere between the sound of water and the weightless atmosphere, mysterious whisper leaves these words: “Twenty fingers are weaved / Four arms are crossed / Lost distance between skin.” They are the lyrics of “A Stage”, the first track out of Joyul’s first studio album “Earwitness”.
At first, it seems like the whisper tries to represent the eerie, unearthly intimacy of the track. However, as the album continues – through the ethereal Grouper-like hymn “Marginalia,” hobbling industrial beat of “Mirror Ash,” and the dreamscape-warped power ballad “Backstroke” – the feeling is growing inside me that this is not an ordinary kind of ‘intimacy’ prevalent in ASMR YouTube clips.
Although “Earwitness” is close enough to ‘stroke’ our hearts and minds, the fundamental obscurity lying in the core of Joyul’s music prevents us from ‘approaching’ this album. What is the source of these sounds? What is the artist tries to present through this album? No, the answer cannot be found, or you will find only your individual answer at best.
“The world constructed of the sounds I hear is a realm only I can enter, which I cannot share with the others,” said Joyul. Joyul started her career as a folk musician (you can hear it in her debut EP, “A Treasure Ship” / “보물선”), but she gradually expanded her soundscape with various elements from drone, free improvisation, electroacoustic, field recording, and further on. Perhaps it is the process of ‘witnessing’ the sound within her – which cannot be shared with the others.
From Joyul’s attitude about the sound, I realize that the ‘distance’ between music and me easily fluctuates depending on circumstances. All music lovers – including me – think that they can comprehend and embrace music at any time, but sometimes music evades us (or vice versa) to the realm of the indescribable abyss. Music stays far away from us and right next to us simultaneously. Distance is lost.
Still, “Earwitness” exists. It exists so I can listen to it. The very existence of “Earwitness” evokes the possibility of interaction, regardless of one’s understanding or identification about this record. Before the ‘official’ whisper begins in “A Stage,” there is a snippet of another question abruptly cut by bells and wail at 1:21 mark – “Have you ever been…?” Is that what I hear? Then yes, I have been this world, space, abyss, chasm, ruin, shore, dream, or whatever you want to name it. And I’m not afraid of revisiting here. (Guwon Jeong)
Grande Amore – “Grande Amore”
The album that has blown our minds and stolen our hearts is difficult to describe, impossible to define. In Hipersónica’s editorial staff, phrases like “look, this is what Sleaford Mods wanted to do, but WELL”, or “I don’t understand a fucking thing about this madness, but I love it” have been used. All in all, in the end the summary was a loud “wolololololololololo”, accompanying the last minutes of “Vamos enchernos (e vamos falar de cousas)”.
“Grande Amore” is not – what you might after this introduction – a merely festive album. It is also an extreme work in its lyrics, in finding the anguish in places a priori of relaxation, as we read in “Esta pena que a veces teño”, which is sung loudly in the karaoke of the car to start the day and send everything to hell, but that reminds you of thousand moments in which you do not just fit in and makes you a little bit bitter, even if you are now a fucking winner in life.
And Nuno doesn’t charge you for therapy. He wrapped up all that shit with hedonistic melodies and life. (P. Roberto Jiménez, Hipersónica)
Master D feat. Divanka – “Murugasan”
Kamburupitiya is a village nesled in the deep South of Sri Lanka, which derives its name from “kamburu”, a term referring to metal workers. Despite a long history of caste based professions that once confined the career paths of most Sri Lankans, these towns can now speak of inhabitants pursuing careers in all walks of life. These include artists such as the Sinhala rapper Master D and the versatile drummer Divanka Sewmin.
Having known each other since childhood, the two had not kept in touch as they each pursued their musical careers. It was only recently that Divanka visited Master D at a studio and suggested they collaborate. Through this exploration, they found that they were both interested in introducing a new sound to Sri Lankan hip hop. Drawing from their diverse influences and the sounds of their environment, they produced the groundbreaking EP “Murugasan”.
Deriving its title from the “murugasan varsva”, a term that refers to an apocalyptic age when human beings kill each other for fun, the album explores the problems of the common folk of Sri Lanka. Known for his socially conscious lyrics, Master D speaks plainly of the many ills of society, and the ways in which the public have been hoodwinked and betrayed by corrupt politicians.
Drawing from Sinhala folk rhythms and world rhythms such as the baila introduced by the Portuguese colonizers, Divanka employs everything but the kitchen sink, quite literally, as he uses kitchen utensils as percussion instruments in these recordings. He hopes that this will inspire musicians to free themselves from the trappings of genre and styles, as they both believe that music must not box you in. Instead, when you exercise your freedom to explore sound, you imbue it with new meanings.
The album is not all doom and gloom, however. It opens quite sweetly with a love song, and closes with a song that describes how one loses oneself to the music. There is strife but there are also moments of respite. There is hope. Life has meaning, after all. (Imaad Majeed)
Linn Koch-Emmery – “Being the girl”
The best Swedish album of 2021 is the debut album from Linn Koch-Emmery. Lyrically it hits you in both heart and mind and musically it’s a mixture of both classic and modern indie with influences from several other subgenres.
I can’t really say that I’m surprised. She’s been around for five years now and she hasn’t released a bad song to this point so when the album came we were prepared for something really special. It’s hard to imagine that this album is a debut album because perfection is everywhere. “Being the girl” includes some heavy indie bangers with rawness and attitude but it also bears a vulnerability and the narrative commute between life-changing events and small things in real life.
The candid lyrics are all about Linn herself. She paints a dark world with colorful paint splashes and the self-hatred commingle with some classic on top of the world attitude. And of course, failed relationships, lost love, and also a dose of both humor and cynicism.
The four stunning singles mark the spine of the album but the other songs in between fill the whole body out to complete unity. The slower parts are beautiful where the bass and the drums interact with some atmospheric effects and Linn’s captivating vocals. The final song “Lasershot” combines all the things I love with her music and when the choir and keystrokes fade out the only thing you want to do is put the album on repeat. (Fabian Forslund)
Acid Amazonians – “How To Take Up Space”
With their spoken lyrics and the crooked sounds Acid Amazonians go into the attack position, noise and experimental are the weapons of the three female musicians.
A reckoning with the unequal treatment of the sexes and wild music for diversity without borders. Powerful and important. (Michael Bohli, ARTNOIR.ch)
Tsng-kha-lâng (裝咖人) – Iā-Kuan Sûn-Tiûnn (夜官巡場)
Formed in 2017, Tsng-kha-lâng (裝咖人) is a young talneted group consisting of members studying in sinophone literature.
With their debut album “Iā-Kuan Sûn-Tiûnn” (夜官巡場), they focus on local religion, local history and the 228 Incident. In the music, they combine traditional Beiguan, folk and rock’n’roll compositions through field research, sining in the beauty of Taiwanese with psychedelic flavor.
This album will also be followed by a novel written by the lead vocal Tiunn Ka-siông (張嘉祥). These works – as well as the band’s live performances – prove that Tsng-kha-lâng is one of the most creative and important new rising bands in Taiwan. (Cheng-Chung Tsai)
Other recommended albums:
• Flesh Juicer (血肉果汁機) – “Golden Taizi Bro” (Golden 太子Bro)
• Crescent Lament (恆月三途) – “Land of Lost Voices” (噤夢)
• misi Ke (柯泯薰) – “Drawing Dialogue” (畫話)
• Cold Dew – “YuYu” (欲欲)
• Sorry Youth (拍謝少年) – “Bad Times, Good Times” (歹勢好勢)
My Life As Ali Thomas – “Peppermint Town”
What started as an acoustic project of singer-songwriter Kanyapak “Pie” Wuttara to become a versatile folk band, on the latest album “Peppermint Town” explores broad territories of rock, pop, and even R&B.
With fantastic vocals and production, it takes you through different styles and moods, possibly strainining your music preferences to some extent, but rewarding you with unexpected twists and solid songwriting regardless of what arrangement has been chosen for that particular song.
“It’s our take on campfire folk-rock, talking about old love and moving on,” Kanyapak said about the single “My Red Golden Sun”, one of the album’s highlights. “Love, and finding love, is like chasing the sun. We chase it simply because it’s what we do, and though the sun hurts us sometimes, could be disappointing or even bad to us, we must not stop chasing.” (Worranat Kongchankit)
Houeida Hedfi – “Fleuves de l’Âme”
Houeida Hedfi started as a percussionist, but now she plays all kinds of instruments not only from Tunisian / North African tradition. Years ago, she also got to meet Swedish producer Olof Dreijer you might know as one half of the electronica group The Knife.
Their acquaintance now resulted in a beautiful full-length album “Fleuves de l’Âme”, which is traditional folk on the first listen, but over time might feel more like music for a film.
And if each of the 8 titles sounds familiar, that’s because the songs have been named after famous rivers “referencing both the safety found in the sound of water and the sinuous drama of each composition, which often starts peacefully, before evolving to encompass drama and tension, conflict and resolution.” (Lina Rim)
Geeva Flava – “Hadal Zone”
Geeva Flava opens a new progressive road for all music lovers, where they may feel lost in the beginning.
While through the journey, people start enjoying the beauties, unexpectedness, and uniquness of this new area named “Hadal Zone”, and even they start to feel thankful to be lost for a while. (Emir Aksoy)
ТУЧА (TUCHA) – “Токсiк” (Toxic)
“Токсiк” (“Toxic”) is the second EP of a one-girl-project ТУЧА that was self-released in 2021. Dark, groovy yet ravy songs in a combination of 90s vibes immediately catch one’s attention. The majority of the songs are sung in Ukrainian and explore topics around co-dependent relationships and toxicity. ‘Don’t tell anyone’, ‘Stockholm Syndrome’, ‘It’s your fault’ – based on the song’s titles, you can tell it’s gonna be no fun.
Or is it? Well, let’s spice it up with some psychedelic visuals and irony. Many noticed that some of ТУЧА’s videos are tributes to Gaspar Noe masterpieces, while her style somewhat resembles Poison Ivy played by Uma Thurman in the 90s. Feels good to dance to the album as it’s getting more surreal. T
he EP sounds more mature as ТУЧА evolves and start using songs as a storytelling without overloading listeners with meanings and puns. There is something very catchy yet repulsive in the release. Perhaps, that’s the way toxic actually works. (Dartsya Tarkovska)
Other recommended albums:
• Stas Koroliov – “O_x”
• Вагоновожатые – “Вогнепальне”
• Straytones – “Magic Green River Swimmin’ & Stunning Tarzanka Experience”
• Tvorchi – “ROAD”
• OTOY, The Lazy Jesus – “Слина”
Niña Lobo – “Lo que duró la vida de alguien”
Over the last two years, Niña Lobo became one of the fastest rising acts in Uruguayan music, a beloved band that carved out its space with just a couple of EPs and singles. This December, their first full-fledged album has come out, and it shows that they have taken their sound to the next step. It also confirms that the buzz that they have been generating over this last years is well deserved.
“Lo que duró la vida de alguien” feels like the songs of a generation that wasn’t overly represented in Uruguayan music. A generation that finds solace from heartbreak and everyday troubles in TV series and movies, that has been educated by Disney and rom-coms, and that has pop culture as a second language, as evidenced by the shout-outs to famous figures in song titles and lyrics that range from one of Uruguay’s most renowed musicians, Jaime Roos, to the likes of Hillary Duff or Natalie Portman.
And it does it with a humorous and sometimes teenage spirit, but at the same time, showing maturity, and expressing pain in a way that feels wrenching but also inviting to dance to forget the sadness.
Pop melodies, punky guitars, glossy and retro-futuristic synths, and a load of anthemic choruses make up the songs of Niña Lobo since the beginning of their career. Here, they perfect that recipe and take it further, in a more diverse and bold way, illuminating the way to whatever may come next for this band in a neon-pink shining light. (Nicolás Tabárez)
Sr. Presidente – “Concorde”
With his seventh release as a solo artist, Heberto Añez Novoa, a.k.a. Sr. Presidente, shows the rich assortment of sounds that flow through his musical mastermind.
“Concorde” is a diptych album that flirts with the 80s sound in its first part, showcasing his passion for making great pop melodies mixed with Caribbean music arrangements, bubbly synths and a beautiful collection of samples, mixed with some distorted guitars, drum machines, and so many layered sounds that show the versatility of his music, often compared to a collage, and his capacity of making it all sound like a whole.
The second part of “Concorde” goes full instrumental, and flirts with free jazz in the vein of his work, using every single resource he has to show a different side of him never explored before in his music.
“Concorde” is a hypnotic piece of work that shows an artist pushing his own boundaries to find new sounds that feel congruent and natural to his evolution. (Alejandro Fernandes Riera)
Rêvasseur – “In Doubtless Memory”
Like most if not all music genres, melodic death metal has changed over time and nowadays it often sounds quite different compared to 1990s melodeath. But on “In Doubtless Memory”, the influences come straight from that era.
Rêvasseur stick to roots and don’t seem to use any contemporary sounds here. You can easily spot the NWOBHM (new wave of British heavy metal) vibes in the opener “March of the Tyrant” for example.
Most other tracks follow the same melodeath path and nothing else, and while there is one exception – the second track “Non Timbo Malum” features some hardcore punk influences as well – “In Doubtless Memory” will be a jaw dropping experience especially for fans of Children of Bodom, In Flames, Dark Tranquillity or At the Gates. (Trong-Nhan Nguyen)
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