NN PRESENTS: Our Favorite Records From 2021
Well, hell. Would you look at that? It’s that time of year where all of the “best records of the year” lists are flowing like the salmon of Capastrano. And just because the blog side of Never Nervous isn’t very active, that doesn’t mean we’re not gonna throw our glove down. Joining me today will be longtime friend and former Never Nervous dude Syd Bishop as well as our esteemed comrade Bael, guitarist/vocalist from Shi – 死 . As we have in the past, we talk about 5 records from Louisville, and 5 records from NOT Louisville AKA anywhere else.
DISCLAIMER: This was put together for fun, so please don’t get angry with us because your favorite band or artist isn’t included.
PHIL’S LOUISVILLE PICKS:
SHITFIRE – Fuck To This | Fronted by singer Hannah Blakeman, Shitfire’s EP is led by her killer voice and charismatic delivery. As she takes center stage, the band sounds like what you might get if you threw Bully and Amyl & The Sniffers into a dirty blender, then topped it off with some country fried Courtney Love for good measure. Does that make sense? Whatever. They have a killer sound, and that’s all you need to know.
SHI – 死 – Basement Wizard | To be honest, stoner metal isn’t a genre that I actively seek out. But Shi continues to find me, earning my attention through each heavy-as-fuck banger after banger. Their latest album continues this trend with certified ass-shakers like Best Laid Plans, We’ll Bang, OK?, and my personal favorite: The Big Sad. There’s an undeniable charm behind Bael’s sarcastic lyrics and thick, growling vocals that cut through the mucky chug-chugs — this aesthetic defines the band’s sound to me.
HUEÓN – Anamnesis | I can’t recommend this enough to fans of cinematic noise-makers like Grails, Tortoise and even Do Make Say Think. Light as a feather, stiff as a fuckin’ bourbon and coke from The Back Door — that’s how the music that Hueón makes me feel. There is an ethereal magic behind each instrumental track that emanates a pleasant feeling of floating through space, but with a strong adult beverage on hand. I’d be willing to bet that Scarlett Johansson’s character from Under The Skin has this record on her space iPod.
WIREWORKS – Wireworks | As evidenced on their debut effort, the music that Wireworks makes could generally be described as post punk with gothic rock and new wave vibes. Recommended to fans of The Cure, Echo & The Bunnymen, and Bauhaus. Perfect for rainy days and black coffee that you drink out of a shitty generic black mug.
LACEY GUTHRIE – The King of Holding Onto Things | Over the last 5 years or so, Lacey Guthrie’s ethereal, breathy voice has become as recognizable as any singer I can think of. On this new solo release, it’s pretty satisfying to hear her unique vocals used in a bit of a new way. These songs are mostly atmospheric, but heavily driven by her amazing voice. My favorite track is the more upbeat “High Horse” which sounds like a heavenly Beach House/Cocteau Twins hybrid.
PHIL’S NOT LOUISVILLE PICKS:
AMYL & THE SNIFFERS – Comfort To Me | I fell in love with this band a year or so ago, and with the release of this record, they are officially one of my favorite current bands. There’s a genuine punk rock energy behind every track, and the sporatic vocal style and brutally honest lyrics from Amy Taylor is the icing on the cake. My favorite track is “Security”, an uptempo track about trying to get Security to let her into a pub. Hell yeah, let her in!
NAS – King’s Disease II | While I don’t think that Nas has released any certifiable “bad” albums, it doesn’t feel like he’s released a complete, genuinely great record since Stillmatic. But that changes with King’s Disease II. God’s Son has returned to legendary form with this effort, and for me, this is the best hip hop album 2021.
DRY CLEANING – New Long Leg | This post-punk band is led by the unconventional vocal style from Florence Shaw. She doesn’t often sing in a conventional sense, it’s more rhythmic speaking. Kinda reminds me of Kim Gordon from Sonic Youth at times. Like on that one song from Goo, but all the time, and with a British accent. Long story short: I love it, and every song on this record rules.
MANNEQUIN PUSSY – Perfect | Since the release of Patience a couple years ago, Mannequin Pussy has been one of my favorite bands on planet Earth. Singer/guitarist Missy Dabice manages to vocally flip flop from Babes In Toyland-esque screaching to delicate, catchy melodies at any moment. “Perfect” is my favorite track — it’s a short, up-tempo banger that’ll set your fuckin’ hair on fire.
CAPRA – In Transmission | Taking from both the metal and hardcore genres, I wouldn’t call this band “metalcore”. Their latest record has plenty of room-shaking chugs, uptempo beats, and killer vocals shreiking from singer Crow Lotus — think Jane Doe-era Converge, but with Christina Michelle from Gouge Away on the mic.
BAEL’S LOUISVILLE (& LEXINGTON) PICKS:
CROP– Crop EP | Where Shi are somewhat leaning into “depressed but fun” territory with our tunes, Crop are firmly in “depressed and crushingly downtrodden” in their pile of slop they spew. This is so damn bleak, and I love every moment of it. Feel very glad that we were able to see them at Holler of Doom and connect with them.
PRAYER LINE – Thrill Me, Lick Me, Fuck Me, Kill Me | Fuck Trent Combs.
MOMMY’S CIGARETTES – It’s My Party… and it sucks! | It still is somewhat surreal to think back to Evan playing bass in Littledidweknow, a technical powerhouse, and then to listen to these songs. They are sloppy, poppy, and fun as shit. The interpolation of other tunes into their punk rock schtick is a gimmick that gets me every time. Real excited to see where they take this for album two, and hope to catch ‘em live in the new year!
KNOCKED LOOSE – A Tear in the Fabric of Life | I still think back to the Greyhaven Cult American album release, and watching the people go absolutely NUTS for Knocked Loose’s set before the headliners. Flash forward to today and they are arguably one of the biggest bands in metal. Any bets on what color theme their next release will be?
SWAMP HAWK – Monster in Color | These dudes are such a multi-faceted and interesting band; typically when bands float from style to style, for me, it comes across as either try-hard or amateur. But with Swamp Hawk they pull it off in a way that hooks me in every time. This release feels like the natural progression from last year’s Blood Wings; a mix of doom, post-metal, angry punk, et al. Another release that just has me hungry for whatever the next serving Swamp Hawk brings out.
BAEL’S NOT LOUISVILLE PICKS:
JAKETHEHAWK – Hinterlands | This album is just hook after hook, melody after melody. They’ve put down their stamp as Appalachian Desert Rock, and I’m not sure I could better describe what’s going on here. These dudes have a knack for sneaking those earworm parts right into your soul.
GREEN LUNG – Black Harvest | They kick things off on this album with those big Boston-esque organ vs guitar licks, and just keep that classic-rock fueled doom riffing rolling. A total shirking of the “sophomore slump” that all bands/artists fear.
CONVERGE & CHELSEA WOLFE – Bloodmoon: I | “Hey, what if we took all the slow/heavy/atmostpheric songs from the past few years, listened to ‘em a bunch, and then wrote a new album that sounds like that? I bet that would be really fucking awesome.”
KACEY MUSGRAVES – Star-Crossed | I’d never heard Musgraves prior to last year I think; I ended up listening to her Golden Hour album a handful of times via various guided listenings and lists I’d worked through, and really dug what I heard. When this came out, I’d seen it was being cited as a departure from her former more country leanings. This is definitely closer to pop than it is country, but holy hell is this a masterclass in songwriting, with Musgraves vocals really shining throughout.
KHEMMIS – Deceiver | A return to form, and honestly a perfection of their particular idiom of doom – this feels like the apology for the previous album (which I was totally underwhelmed by). It’s like they took all the best elements of their first 2 records, improved them further, and then baked them in this tasty cake of an album.
SYD’S LOUISVILLE PICKS:
YONS – Laws of Motion | It’s been an easy year to tune out the bullshit and turn inside. That’s what Yons does with Laws of Motion, his all-too-short EP that features new and old songs alike. You can get the full scope of Yons’ diverse influences, consolidated into one banger of an album, from soulful moments of abject beauty to funk/hip-hop anthems like “These Roads Ain’t Safe.”
FEAR OF TALK – II. on love | I couldn’t tell you the first thing about the musician behind this, outside of what the music says, and that’s perfect. A brief EP that privileges softly strummed guitars and choral harmonies, On Love is such a pretty album. With lyrics that reflect on aging and parenting, this hit close to home. This is an easy album to enjoy, with the only complaint that it’s way, way too short. More please.
WIREWORKS – Wireworks | There is something wholly familiar and comforting about the music of Wireworks. With their self-titled debut, the band offer a promising glimpse into their brand of dark wave. The formula is, at least to some degree, quiet/loud, but the band isn’t afraid to sit back and let an idea unfold, each melody in exactly the right place. Standouts include the bombastic “Precious” or the world-weary “Control.”
MATT SWEENEY & BONNIE “PRINCE” BILLY – Superwolves | It feels like a cheat to put this on here, but goddamn this album is good. And I see Will Oldham out in my neighborhood all the time, so he’s local as far as I’m concerned, so much so that Matt Sweeney is basically a Louisvillian too. This is a dense and thoughtful record, Sweeney’s guitar work charming, if deceptive in its apparent simplicity (it’s anything but simple). Oldham’s lyrics are as extraordinary as ever here, though rarely what you expect. Hell, this album is strong enough that even though he calls God a bitch, I still thought my dad would dig it. And he does.
SLEEPING BAG – Sleeping Songs | Doug Campbell is such a singular musical force. Performing as The Sleeping Bag, Campbell makes pop music that blends such an insane balance of otherwise disparate musical touchpoints. You can hear everything from the lo-fi bedroom indie (think Sebadoh) that informed his earlier work, to Ween to industrial; and that’s all just in the song “Sleepwalk Around.” It’s a joy to try and anticipate what comes next, knowing that surprise is around every corner.
SYD’S NOT LOUISVILLE PICKS:
BLACK COUNTRY, NEW ROAD – For The First Time | The collective talent in Black Country, New Road is astonishing, only paralleled by their contemporaries in bands like Black Midi or Squid. With “For the First Time,” the band have released such an incredible opening statement on music, with an album that blends the moodiness of Slint or the For Carnation (they even directly reference Slint!) with the storytelling of Springsteen (which they also reference, if indirectly). Holy hell, if the breakdown in “Science Fair” doesn’t make you want to flip a table, I don’t know what to tell you.
JOHN HOPKINS – Music for Psychedelic Therapy | This is easily one of the most serene and pastoral works of ambient composition in the last decade. While earlier work by Hopkins left me cold, Music for Psychedelic Therapy is just gorgeous. Here, Hopkins mixes natural soundscapes like waterfalls or caves with warm synth tones for an album that is all-too-easy to get lost in.
IDLES – Crawler | The music of IDLES is such a joyous and gleeful kind of anarchy, that both embraces community, while screaming “fuck you” straight into the face of every asshole on Earth. It’s a righteous fury that didn’t quite land for me on 2020’s Ultra Mono, but is so perfectly captured on Crawler. Here, the band shifts ever-so-slightly to include synths and electronics, tapping into an almost Nick Cave vibe at times, but without ever losing sight of their blistering heat. This is the perfect record to blast and shout along too when the going gets tough.
STEVE GUNN – Other You | Sometimes you just need something that gives you a little peace. Steve Gunn is as fantastic a guitarist as a vocalist, and his music is equal parts gentle and thought-provoking. That’s the case here with Other You, which sees the singer-songwriter learning to operate in an increasingly smaller world. The “other you” in question, refers to Gunn harmonizing with himself in the studio, and that necessary isolation plays out for a beautiful and contemplative meditation on guitar.
DEAN HURLEY – Concrete Feather | The music of Dean Hurley is as otherworldly and surreal as the professional spaces that the artist has inhabited. The musical companion to David Lynch, Hurley is a modern contemporary to Angelo Badalamenti, albeit with a focus on drone compositions. Still, Concrete Feather has moments of levity (Concrete Dub) and serenity (Val Verde Horizon), all in one cohesive package. By and large, Concrete Feather is as comforting as it is comfortable, a relaxing affair that uses sound creation as a character.