Last year was uneven in so many ways. You would think that being on lockdown for much of the last two years would have resulted in more music consumption than usual, but it turns out I was on track to listen to less music during this pandemic than at any other time over the last 17 years (that’s how long I’ve been tracking my listening activity with Last.fm). I’d blame the unprecedented onslaught of Zoom meetings, but my listening time had already been in slow decline for years; lockdown just accelerated the trend. I also escaped into gaming a whole lot in 2020, and a bit into 2021. So, it was really only in the last three months of 2021 that the floodgates opened back up, and I started listening to music again with mucho gusto.
(I’ve written at length about some of this music. Look for the star ★ symbols if you’re interested in reading more.)
🎵 3,810 songs played
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No surprise here. Pale Waves are my most meaningful musical discovery in recent memory, and I have played them like there’s no tomorrow. I guess I’m emo now.
Softcult released their first music in 2021 and continue to impress me with every new song they put out. My excitement over this band has only grown since I originally wrote about them, and I can’t wait for their next EP to drop in February. ★
I’m a sucker for good synthpop, and CHVRCHES did not disappoint this year. Screen Violence is so good, and it got me listening to their whole back catalog again.
I played The Cure a lot last year because so much of the other music I listened to seemed to emphatically point me back to them. I’m not at all surprised that they continue to inspire artists more than 40 years later, but I am delighted.
Metric didn’t release anything new last year, but I’m still enjoying 2018’s Art of Doubt quite a bit.
My Mind Makes Noises ★
🎵 2,429 songs played
Who Am I? ★
🎵 733 songs played
ALL THE THINGS I NEVER SAID
🎵 602 songs played
Year Of The Rat
🎵 432 songs played
Screen Violence ★
🎵 290 songs played
Pale Waves – My Mind Makes Noises
Pale Waves’ My Mind Makes Noises is the album that burned through the haze and reignited my love of music last year. What a shimmering, effusive, emotionally unguarded, 80s-inspired coming-of-age pop-rock revival. It’s not only my most played album of the year, but possibly my most played album of all time. ★
Pale Waves – Who Am I?
As much as I like Pale Waves, I have a complicated relationship with their second album. They went in a very different direction on Who Am I?, changing influences from the likes of The Cure and The Primitives to early-2000s pop-punk and singer/songwriters like Avril Lavigne and Michelle Branch. Talk about stylistic whiplash. Still, thanks to some irresistible songs, this album ended up having enough appeal to push it to the top of my listening this year. ★
Pale Waves – ALL THE THINGS I NEVER SAID
YEAH, IT’S PALE WAVES AGAIN. 🕶 I discovered their 2018 EP ALL THE THINGS I NEVER SAID this year, too, and I’m tempted to call it their best work overall. It’s just a bit more bright and plucky than the darker pop rock of My Mind Makes Noises, and a clear predecessor to bangers like “Television Romance” and “There’s A Honey”. I defy you to listen to “The Tide” without bopping your head at least a little bit. So freakin’ catchy.
Softcult – Year Of The Rat
Softcult’s Year Of The Rat was my second most exciting discovery of the year, and my favorite music released in 2021. This tight EP packs up all the best parts of 90s shoegaze, alt rock, and dream pop and pairs the music with socially conscious themes. I love this so much.
CHVRCHES – Screen Violence
Huh, I wonder if I’m super into mid-80s to mid-90s new wave revivalist music. CHVRCHES often gush over Depeche Mode, The Cure, and New Order (and justifiably so; those bands are awesome), but I think Screen Violence is the first album where those influences are so plainly and literally present (e.g. Robert Smith’s guest vocals on “How Not To Drown”). I love hearing more guitar and real drums find their way into this band’s songs. It’s a really pleasant evolution of their sound, and probably their strongest album to date. Plus, drawing a line between horror films and all the trauma pushed through our screens over the last few years is pretty genius, if you ask me. It’s a very 2021 album. ★
🎵 223 plays
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was am clearly obsessed with this album. “Kiss” is the best song The Cure never wrote.
Some of last year’s musical discoveries didn’t make my top fives, but are still worth mentioning:
The whole Japanese music scene is incredibly interesting to me right now, and this band is one of the best. I didn’t do them justice when I shared their live performance of “onset” with just a pithy blurb. I may write more later, but for now I’ll just add that watching this band’s live videos has—as the kids say—given me life. Unfortunately, a lot of their best live performances have been DMCA-ed off of YouTube, but some of them have survived as reaction videos. It’s worth enduring the reactions, though, to witness how tight and talented this band is.
Courage My Love – SPECTRA
This is the previous band from Softcult’s Arn-Horn sisters. A lot of their earlier music was squarely in the pop-punk genre, but their last two albums—Synesthesia and SPECTRA—shifted to synth-pop. SPECTRA in particular is quite good, though both albums start to hint at the sounds and themes that would eventually become Softcult.
The Joy Formidable – AAARTH
The Big Roar is one of my all-time favorite albums, so I eagerly awaited what came next for The Joy Formidable. Wolf’s Law, was pretty good, but Hitch just didn’t land for me at all. As result, I kind of stopped paying attention. Whoops. Last year, I caught a wild hare to listen to the band’s whole catalog, and AAARTH really stood out this time around. I hear a lot of the same sort of heavy, weird, experimental choices that I loved in The Big Roar, and it’s become my second favorite The Joy Formidable album.
HANABIE. – Girl’s Reform Manifest
Can metal be fun? This metal sounds fun. It’s also super heavy. I shared the music video for the song “We love sweets” ★ recently, and since then I’ve listened to the whole album multiple times. Nothing else quite captures the magic of “We love sweets”, but this record still roars. “L.C.G – 2019mix” and “Reiwa dating apps generation” are a couple more fan favorites, if you’re interested.
I forget how I ran across Fickle Friends—the last 3 months was kind of a blur of music—but this band is delightful. They’ve written some of the strongest pop hooks in recent memory and have a tight-as-a-drum production sound right up there with Now, Now and HAIM. “Glue”, “Love You To Death”, and “Midnight” are absolute earworms. Really looking forward to their next album coming out this month.
Total Time Listened
Longest Listening Streak
89 Days in a row
Total Tracks Played
Unique Songs Played
Average Plays Per Day
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