Bring a thimble and I’ll pour my thoughts out – Paul Westerberg, “How Can You Like Him?”
Ok, so I’m a little late getting this manifesto out this year. Generally, I have this all ready to print in mid-December, but an illness took a week out of my life right around that time. Those who listened to the New Year’s Eve edition of The Ledge already heard the audio countdown of both my 40 favorite records of the year and 20 best reissues, but here’s a representation of the same lists that will not take you six hours of listening.
Scott Hudson’s 40 Best Albums of 2021
1. The Shadracks, From Human Like Forms. The journey of this album to the top of my charts is somewhat interesting. I enjoyed it when it was initially released, but nothing really stood out for me. That changed when I obtained the vinyl, as this trio’s great garage sounds leapt out of my speakers. This is exuberant, passionate, and, most importantly, well written blasts of rock and roll.
3. The Exbats, Now Where Were We. This fabulous father/daughter garage duo has broadened their sound a bit on this fabulous retro-sounding album. The White Stripes-ish garage thump is still present, but the songs owe just as much (if not more) to early 60s Phil Spector productions and the exuberance of the great moments of The Mamas and Papas. One of the most charming albums of the year.
4. Jeremy Porter and The Tucos, Candy Coated Cannonball. One of the many great pleasures of doing The Ledge is the growing knowledge and friendships with various artists and labels. Porter is one of those friends who have made sure I had a copy of everything he released. And this record is certainly the pinnacle of his career. It’s pretty clear that Porter has studied the work of a certain Mr. Westerberg, as his lyrics are every bit as clever.
5. Amyl & The Sniffers, Comfort To Me. Good old pure rage. Lead singer Amy Taylor is mad at everything and everybody, and her grievances are both worldly and personal. Given the times we’re living in, I don’t think there’s too many people who can’t relate to her rants.
6. John Murry, The Stars Are God’s Bullet Holes. Murry could easily be considered the real life representation of a tortured artists, and it’s not an act. He’s been through a lot of tragedy in his life, and all of his back pages are documented in his songs. Yet, like the best confessional albums, Murray doesn’t wallow in his pity, and one comes out of it feeling a bit uplifted.
7. Night Beats, Outlaw R&B. One of the best qualities of this Austin-based band is their unpredictability. No record sounds the same as their previous release, and this fifth album is no exception. The garage feel is still there, but there’s almost a “trippy” feel to a good portion of this record.
8. Aaron Lee Tasjan, Tasjan! Tasjan! Tasjan! Technically, Tasjan is listed as an Americana singer/songwriter, and his tunes do involve a bit of twang. Yet that is just a portion of Tasjan’s influences, as he’s not only genre-bending but the lyrics at times are also a little gender-bending.
9. Viagra Boys, Welfare Jazz. I guess the musical theme for my favorite records of the year is genre-bending, as these Swedish post-punkers integrate all kinds of other sounds and genres. There’s even a John Prine cover!
10. Parquet Courts, Sympathy For Life. Talk about a band that never stays the same. Throughout their decade-long career, every new album has taken the sound of the previous album and expanded it in some way. For this record, they’ve added dance rhythms that are reminiscent of the 2013 party album by The Dirtbombs, Ooey Gooey Chewy Ka-blooey! It somehow works, mainly due to the fun you can tell the band had while recording it.
12. Idles, Crawler. For their fourth album, Idles expands their sound yet stay true to their aggro/punk/post-punk roots.
13. Courtney Barnett, Things Take Time, Take Time. The beauty of Barnett’s entire catalog is that every song sounds so effortless. It’s like she woke up, turned on her computer, and conjured four minutes of greatness out of the ether. Obviously, there’s much more to her process, as her lyrics are so smart and precise there just has to be a little more craft involved.
14. CTMF, Where The Wild Purple Iris Grows. Not to be outdone by his son, Shadracks leader Huddie Hamper, Wild Billy Childish has his own winning album of old school, stomping garage rock. And this isn’t his only project of the year, as you’ll see later in this list.
15. Scientists, Negativity. One of the most underrated Australian indie rock bands of the 80s reunited and recorded what may be the album of their career.
16. Chime School, Chime School. Jangle pop is indeed back, as this fabulous debut brings you right back to the influential C86 period of British alternative rock.
17. Brad Marino, Looking for Trouble /18. Geoff Palmer, Charts & Graphs. (Tie) These two gentlemen are great friends. They’ve been in bands together, and they play on each other’s projects. Both of them are heavily influenced by the three “R’s” – The Ramones, The Rolling Stones, and The Replacements. That’s why I really can’t separate these two wonderful, extremely clever records.
19. The Umbrellas, The Umbrellas. San Francisco is quietly becoming the new center of jangle pop, as bands like Chime School, The Mantles, and Flowertown have brought that sound back. But it’s not a straight homage, as every one of these bands are adding their own little slices of other elements. In this case, there’s a bit of a garage backing and some strong melodic pop songwriting.
21. Shannon & The Clams, Year Of The Spider. This Oakland band’s sixth album is easily their most diverse to date. Along with their usual 60s neo-psychedelic garage rock, there are tracks here reminiscent of Abba, Suicide, doo-wop, and Motown.
22. Ty Segal, Harmonizer. It was an unusually quiet year for a man who regularly puts out a handful of records every year. It’s also one of his most intriguing, as keyboards and synths are the primary instruments, with Segall’s guitar relegated to processed squeals
23. Blunt Bangs, Proper Smoker. Similar to The Blips, Blunt Bangs are a super group of sorts, with each band member possessing an impressive biography. And like The Blips, this collaboration has resulted in a record of great old-fashioned power pop.
24. Split Single, Amplificado. Simply put, this is the true supergroup of the year. Led by Jason Narducy, known for his stints as bassist in both Bob Mould and Superchunk’s touring lineup.Add to that former R.E.M. bassist Mike Mills and Jon Wurster (Superchunk, Bob Mould, Mountain Goats) and you have some potential for greatness. Sure, one can pick up the influences of each of those acts, but there’s almost a Cheap Trick feel to quite a few of these tracks.
25. Gentleman Jesse, Lose Everything. Ten years ago, “Gentleman” Jesse Smith released Leaving Atlanta, his fabulous second power pop album, and then he disappeared. Suddenly a new record appeared in late 2021, and it was like time had stood still. It’s a natural follow-up that could have come out just months after its predecessor.
26. Acid Dad, Take It From The Dead. How does one describe this band’s sound? There are so many divergent influences, from The Jesus and Mary Chain and Sonic Youth to T. Rex and late 50s psych. There’s even a little bit of Joy Division hidden deep into the blender.
27 Michael Beach, Dream Violence. As one may expect, I like my singer/songwriters to be as influenced as The Lemonheads and The Replacements as they are to the usual suspects (Dylan, Young, etc.) That’s exactly why I love that John Murry record so much, and also why I keep going back to this wonderful record.
28. The William Loveday Intention, They Wanted The Devil But I Sang Of God. Last year, Wild Billy Childish introduced his latest moniker, William Loveday. Inspired by going back and listening to Bob Dylan for the first time in decades. So energized by this new band, Childish put out six albums of Dylan-esque rantings (and covers) under this name in a six month period, and followed them up a few months later with yet another record.
29. Guided By Voices, It’s Not Them. It Couldn’t Be Them. It Is Them! It was a relatively quiet year for GBV, as they only put out two albums (although I’m sure there’s a couple more ready for release). Look, at this point in their career even their biggest fans have to question whether they need yet another new release. Each record has their share of wonderful moments, and this one makes the list because it has more of those highlights than the other.
31. Nick Cave & Warren Ellis, CARNAGE. When the world went into lockdown, Nick Cave hunkered down with Bad Seeds member Warren Ellis. While they had collaborated on various film soundtracks, this was the first time the pair had collaborated on a “real” album. Still suffering over the death of his son, coupled with the state of the world, the resulting songs are somewhat predictably dour. But who does depressing subjects better than Cave?
32. Juliana Hatfield, Blood. Hatfield has had quite the career resurgence over the last few years, and Blood continues the winning streak. Recorded at a simple setup at home (a method she’s never employed before), the record succeeds primarily by Hatield’s mastery of combining bitter lyrics with the sweetest possible melodies.
33. Dinosaur Jr., Sweep It Into Space. Ever since the original lineup reunited a decade or so ago they’ve released surprisingly great records, and this one is probably the best of the bunch. Co-produced by Kurt Vile, they even sound like they’re having a lot of fun, which is something that would have never been said about their original run of releases.
34. Lord Huron, Long Lost. The word “epic” is especially apt for this double album. Few albums have such a cinematic feel as this one. It’s a long, strange trip with plenty of detours.
35. Dry Cleaning, New Long Leg. The equation is somewhat simple. Take Amyl & The Sniffers and reduce the angst by approximately 25%. Then add one pinch of The Smiths and an overflowing tablespoon of Siouxsie and the Banshees. That’s the sound of Dry Cleaning
36. The Hold Steady, Open Door Policy. After a couple of so-so records, the veteran band somehow sounds rejuvenated. It’s definitely more varied and (thankfully) less compressed than 2019’s Thrashing Thru the Passion, and allowing returning member Franz Nicolay to contribute songs definitely strengthened the song selection.
37. Colleen Green, Cool. This record is the definition of a sleeper. At first it just seemed like a cleaned up version of her last record, 2015’s fabulous I Want To Grow Up. Yet within a few days I found myself loving it more and more. The rough edges may have been eased out, but they’re more than offset by Green’s growing songwriting skills.
39. Neil Young, Barn. This album’s story is so quintessential Neil Young. He rebuilt a vintage Colorado Springs barn, and then called in Crazy Horse to quickly record an album. The result, which happens quite often when recruits Crazy Horse, is his best album of the last few years.
40. Indonesian Junk, Living In a Nightmare. How can you not love a band whose name comes from a Cheap Trick lyric? This is simply fantastic Midwestern rock and roll, influenced not only by the band where they got their name but other straight ahead rockers such as Thin Lizzy, The Hellacopters, and The Dead Boys.
Scott Hudson’s Best Reissues, Compilations, and Box Sets of 2021
3. John Lennon, Plastic Ono Band. Just two weeks after Harrison’s manifesto, John Lennon released his first “real” solo album, and any doubts about the breakup of The Beatles was immediately vanquished. Generally described as his “primal scream” album, this is the angriest, most deeply personal record Lennon would ever put out. Like the Harrison box, this set includes dozens of outtakes, along with a disc of rock and roll jams that negates the idea that this was a dire set of sessions.
4. Gang of Four, 77-81. One of the most underappreciated bands of the time, this box compiles everything they put out in their initial four year run – two studio albums, a collection of singles, an unreleased live album, and (weirdly) a 90-minute cassette of outtakes and demos. All great, all essential.
5. Richard Hell, Destiny Street Complete. Richard Hell was never completely happy with his second (and final) solo album, so for this reissue he remixed the entire record. The box set version includes not only the usual demos and outtakes, but a remastered version of 2009’s Destiny Street Repaired,where he recorded new vocals over the original backing tracks. That may be a bit much for most people, but the remixed single album version is superb.
6. Various Artists, I’ll Be Your Mirror: A Tribute to The Velvet Underground & Nico. There have been a ton of VU tribute albums over the years, but this track by track remake of their debut record may be the best. While most tribute records have a few questionable covers, almost every cover here is exquisite.
7. The Pretenders, Pretenders and Pretenders II. Two classic records get the usual box set treatment, with some blistering live tracks mixed with the usual demos and outtakes.
9. Bob Dylan, Springtime in New York: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 16 / 1980-1985. The beauty of Dylan’s Bootleg Series releases is that it has allowed us to reevaluate eras that are generally considered dismal. That’s certainly the case here, as Dylan again showcased a growing flaw where he released not only lesser tunes but even lesser versions of those songs that actually made the albums.
10. Elvis Costello, Spanish Model. There’s no way that this record should have worked. Costello supplied the original backing tracks of his second album to Spanish-speaking vocalists to create an entirely new version of the record. It’s shockingly good.
11. Swell Maps, Mayday Signals. Two discs of home recordings and studio demos from a quirky late 70s band that was equally influenced by Can and T. Rex.
12. Tom Petty, Angel Dreams. Shortly after the release of Wildflowers, Petty utilized some of the outtakes from those sessions for the soundtrack to the film She’s The One. With the release of the expanded Wallflowers, the Petty estate decided to reconfigure that subsequent release by substituting various outtakes and covers unused on the original album.
13. PJ Harvey Reissues. The reissue campaign of Harvey’s catalog continued on in 2022, with each release accompanied by a separate release of demos of that album’s tracks.
14. Neil Young Archival Releases. Uncle Neil had an ambitious plan for 2021 that included close to a dozen previously unreleased records from his archives. Well, that didn’t quite happen, but there were releases of live recordings from 1970, 1971, and 1990.
15. Sex Pistols, 76-77. Over the years there have been dozens of horribly mastered Sex Pistols bootlegs of various outtakes. Now this official box set has taken all the known studio recordings and properly mixed and mastered them. Oddly, many of the earliest recordings, captured by their sound guy, David Goodman, are stronger than the professional multitracks record later.
16. Green Day, BBC Sessions. For close to 40 years, recording sessions for John Peel’s legendary radio show were great opportunities for bands to record special versions of their best-known tracks. Given that for these sessions bands were generally given only two hours to cut four songs, the results were often superior to the official release. One can hear in this compilation of four such sessions the band having fun just cranking out some of their biggest tunes.
18. The Jacks, Make ‘Em Cry. In the beginning, there was a band in the early 80s from Oklahoma called The Jacks. Somehow, they ended up in Minneapolis, where the band promptly broke up. Leader Mitch Griffin stayed in the city, and ended up recruiting the likes of Tommy Stinson, Bob Mould, and Chris Osgood from The Suicide Commandos. Outside of a limited run of cassettes (under the name Tulsa Jacks) in 1982, these recordings sat in a box for almost 40 years before Reminder Records finally put them out this year. (On a recent podcast, Tommy Stinson admitted he knew nothing about this release, nor the sessions for these recordings.)
19. The Rolling Stones, Tattoo You /20. The Beatles, Let It Be. I’m sure many of you are wondering how could box sets of two of the greatest bands of all time be so far down on the list? Well, let me explain. When it comes to the Stones box, one must remember that Tattoo You was secretly an outtakes album. Associate producer Chris Kimsey went through various tapes that went as far back as 1972’s Goats Head Soup to create a record to sell during their 1981 US tour. How exactly can you create a box set of an outtakes album? As for The Beatles’ box, there were dozens of hours of songs recorded during that month in 1969 documented in the wonderful Get Back documentary. Yet everything on this five disc set, which includes a remix of the original album, could comfortably fit on two CD’s. It’s such a wasted opportunity, although many are predicting that the eventual Blu-Ray release of the documentary will coincide with a Get Back collection. I’ll believe it when I see it.