As 2021 draws to a close and we reflect on another year filled with far more lows than highs for the creative industries, it is safe to say that our musicians didn’t let us down. It is clear our musicians used the various periods of lockdown and restrictions to focus on their recorded output and the quality of output was as high as ever.
Compiling these lists is always a challenging and frustrating process as there are so many to choose from & some gems inevitably fall through the cracks. That said, it’s a nice problem to have.
In our busy lives it can be hard to find time to enjoy a full listen through without interruption. We believe the twenty albums that make up our 2021 list, warrant a dedicated listen without any distractions. Pencil in some time over the Christmas and New Year break and enjoy the first part of our Northern Irish Albums of the Year 2021.
Words by Aaron Cunningham, Ben Magee & Robert Brown.
20 ►Tour Alaska – New Ways For Us To Fall
The second solo album from songwriter Gerry Norman, despite its name, has more pep than his first long release. Where his debut had a slower pace, New Ways For Us To Fall has a handful of upbeat singles amongst some more serene efforts. There’s a balance to the album that fits Norman’s sensibilities, with tracks like ‘Starlight, Starlight’ and lead single ‘Apple Disguise’ giving the album a real lift.
19 ► Foy Vance – Signs Of Life
Signs Of Life marks the return of one of Bangor’s finest songwriters. It follows a period of reflection which paved the way for Foy to tackle a number of his touring acquired vices and this sense of re-birth and purpose can be found throughout. The production is understated but that gives his soulful vocals to take centre stage and not distract from the very personal subject matter.
18 ► VerseChorusVerse – What If We Won
Tony Wright’s latest full length is another trip into new sounds. Not one to let genre tags take hold, What If We Won moves from sonic experiments to spaced out riffing in a heartbeat. An album that jumps around a lot but there’s great moments thrown in, be it the Beastie Boys hip hop inspired jams or the heavy I Live With A Monster with its delicate piano and brutally honest lyrics.
17 ► Conn Thornton – Tragedy
Bristol based songwriter Conn Thornton released the second of two 2021 albums back in October, content to put his music out there at his own pace. There are few releases from the North quite like it. A much more concise release than February’s Destroyer, Tragedy expands on the piano based tracks and into new sonic territory. There’s room for experimentation, dreamy and brooding lo-fi with affected songwriting and vocals. Lead single ‘The Moon’ is at the very centre of it all.
16 ► smallmint – Where We All End Up In The End
For wistful late night listening, Smallmint’s debut record hits the spot. Delve in and you’ll discover a host of intelligent and thoughtful releases that flit around Americana but have their grounding in indie rock. It is a record that doesn’t hold back on its emotions and in doing so left us feeling pretty attached by the time we reached the end. A wonderful debut that will hold plenty of interest for fans of Frightened Rabbit & Death Cab For Cutie.
15 ► Owen Lamont – Just Smile
Owen Lamont’s debut has been a labour of love, finally coming to fruition this year. Songwriting that reflects the album title as Just Smile is full of feel good tunes. Lamont’s powerful voice is complimented by soulful rhythms from smooth guitar to horn section interjections. Big, catchy singles like ‘Hold On’ and ‘Nobody’ remain the standouts.
14 ► TRÚ – No Fixed Abode
Drawing their inspirations from ancient Irish mythology, TRÚ is rooted in the traditions of Ulster folk music and alternative rock. With inspiration from magicians, snow spirits and things that go bump in the night, their Gaelic wails and lullabies are goosebump-inducing. So atmospheric that certain tunes have their own gravitational pull, TRÚ are neither to be ignored nor trifled with.
13 ► Invaderband – Peter Gabriel
It is hard to tie Invaderband down to a specific genre or mood and Peter Gabriel is no different. From artful garage rock to vivacious pop punk, Adam Leonard blitzes through genre and topic at a great rate. From the irresistibly catchy but self deprecating ‘I Won’t Remember You’ to the quite silly ‘Cheese Slices’ or delivering a rallying cry against the establishment ‘Handcuffed Man Shoots Himself’. We came away not knowing whether we were standing up or sitting down but one thing is for sure, we couldn’t wait to dive in again.
12 ► Leo Miyagee – Act III
Quickly becoming the go-to face for rap and hip-hop in the North, Miyagee’s latest album is another feather in the cap of an impressive discography. Moving from the boom-bap of earlier releases into jazzier beats, tighter production and his best vocals/delivery yet, Act III is a game-changer. Improvements as a songwriter and storyteller are evident on tracks like Steez Royale and Blackmoon. The first landmark release from a northern artist, it’s a complete narrative piece from start to finish, and one that sets the tone for Miyagee going forward. Watch this space, it’s Miyagee’s world now.
11 ► Gaze Is Ghost – Lapis Colbalt Indigo Blue
An album that has been long in the making, Lapis Cobalt Indigo Blue materialised in the summer, 8 years after her last with songwriter Laura McGarrigle moving the project into a trio. A release full of ethereal wonder, with songs largely led by McGarrigle’s stunning vocals and piano but there’s so much more in the instrumentation. All sorts of textures and tones come into play, whether it’s smart percussion and strings that raise the pulse or all manner of sparkle. Beautiful songwriting amongst a natural but dreamy landscape.