Funk-pop, trap beats, smirking lyricism… we round up our top five music releases of 2021.
1. Space Afrika – Honest Labour
Honest Labour is a mind-boggling achievement and a thing of sprawling beauty. A shifting assemblage crafted from dense knots of urban life and glittering shards of ethereal aspiration. An ambient record interspersed with subtle downtempo chugs and genuine narrative progression. Where a work of inferior quality would get hopelessly lost, Honest Labour soars.
2. Parcels – Day/Night
On their sophomore release, Parcels settle into their groove without the slightest hint of second album jitters. Despite being nearly two hours long, Day/ Night manages to indulge in thematic flights of fancy without losing the thread. It’s a thoroughly charming funk-pop record that makes nonsense of the accusations of kitsch so often levelled at the genre. If you’re ever wondering what the person on the U-Bahn with the grin and the tapping foot is listening to, it’s probably this. And just think, it could be you too.
3. Lotic – Water
Little known fact: recorded usage for the term “lotic”, referring to organisms or habitats that inhabit rapidly flowing freshwater, peaked in 1989. It’s also the year that gave us J’Kerian Morgan, truly one of the most astonishing artists of this generation. Morgan has said outright that Water is the album she has always wanted to make, remarkable when you consider that it renders some of the most ambitious music of the last decade little more than preamble. Perhaps that’s what differentiates musicians of Lotic’s calibre from the rest. The ability, confidence and foresight to carve out the future against the rushing onslaught of chin-stroking agreement. As for the album? Shivers.
4. Layla – Traboe
Traboe is a confident release from a young artist unafraid to assert herself the way she wants. All trap beats and smirking lyricism, the EP struts through its six tracks in a way that earlier, more soulful releases didn’t dare. Underpinning the whole record is the tacit understanding that the path to earning respect starts with the way you look at yourself, and there is simply no mistaking what Layla sees when she looks in the mirror. As a result, Traboe is fierce, explicit and unapologetic.
5. Gewissen – Gewissen
Little is known about this release, which first popped up as a cassette back in 2019, since it was only available to those willing to grease the palms of 25 stoic drone enthusiasts. Whether this record is even from Berlin is questionable, such is the bulk of the fug that swirls around it. Still, it gets the nod on account of it being properly wicked. There is a commitment to strangeness that runs deep and true. Not like Sameheads “strange”, but more like ferret-on-your-shoulder “strange”. At once spectral and cosmic, Gewissen is both beguiling and irresistible.