Lucinda Dodd, Alex Tearle, Tim Ovenden, Jake Longhurst, Daria Paterek and Amrit Virdi
As 2021 draws to a close, Impact’s Reviews Team have come together to give their thoughts on their favourite albums of the year, featuring releases from MARINA, Inhaler, Dean Blunt, Architects, Tinashe, Jazmine Sullivan and Chase Atlantic.
MARINA – ‘Ancient Dreams in a Modern Land’ (Lucinda Dodd)
After her underwhelming 2019 album ‘Love + Fear’, ‘Ancient Dreams in a Modern Land’ proves MARINA still has her effervescence. The punchy, philosophical title track sees MARINA sets out her belief in a rebellion against the status quo. Venus Fly Trap gives power to the idea of individuality: “why be a wallflower when you could be a Venus fly trap?”
belief in the power of pop as a vehicle for social change
“I never quite fit into the Hollywood thing / I didn’t play the game for the money or the fame” MARINA declares, alluding to her career-long refusal to conform to the expectations of a popstar. In a talk with the Oxford Union, MARINA disclosed how her earliest encounters with feminism were from music, leading to her belief in the power of pop as a vehicle for social change.
This premise is seen on the grandiose, theatrical sounding New America – a response to Trumpism and the police brutality plaguing the so-called Land of the Free. She sings to America: “You can’t bury the truth / It’s time to pay your dues”. Purge the Poison has a sci-fi theme tune feel, and sees MARINA call on humanity to ‘purge’ itself of racism, misogyny and environmental degradation.
The album takes an introspective turn with the concluding songs telling the story of MARINA ending her destructive relationship. The solemn Pandora’s Box uses the the Greek myth as a metaphor for MARINA’s partner cheating – awakening painful, deep buried feelings within her. This track, along with Flowers and Highly Emotional People, showcases the best of MARINA’s falsetto.
I Love You But I Love Me More is a transformative anthem as MARINA realises she must put herself first. The final track, Goodbye, an ethereal piano ballad, sees MARINA say farewell to her partner and her old self: “Goodbye to the girl that I was / Goodbye to the girl that you lost”. It’s an appropriately optimistic ending as MARINA comes into new-strength and resilience.
Inhaler – ‘It Won’t Always Be Like This’ (Alex Tearle)
One of the best indie rock records of the year is Inhaler’s ‘It Won’t Always Be Like This’, a fantastic record showcasing the very best of the UK’s rock and indie scenes. The band have grown categorically in the wake of this record, gaining spots supporting Arctic Monkeys and Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, a testament to how fantastic this project is.
a breath of fresh air in an oversaturated genre
The record features a great mix of musical talent, from excellent guitar solos to poignant lyricism, solidifying the album as one of the best of the year. Their sound is familiar yet innovative, catchy but not repetitive, and overall a breath of fresh air in an oversaturated genre.
Inhaler’s live shows are also excellent, proving the band’s skill as both writers and performers, and creating a friendly and loving atmosphere at all their gigs. Stand out tracks include Totally and My Honest Face, both incredibly catchy tunes that highlight the band at their best. Whether you listen to the album blaring out of car speakers on a road trip, through headphones on the bus, or reverberating around a tent at a festival, ‘It Won’t Always Be Like This’ is my pick for easy-listening indie every time, and is an incredibly viable recommendation to make.
Dean Blunt – ‘BLACK METAL 2’ (Tim Ovenden)
Where do I begin with the eccentric, enigmatic and elusive Dean Blunt? Much of his discography – including the output from his collaborative projects ‘Babyfather’, ‘Blue Iverson’ and ‘Hype Williams’ (inexplicably named after the American music video director) – sounds like music made for art museums. Most of his mixtapes are collections of random, fleeting and seemingly nondescript concepts.
Then, 2014 brought the fully realised ‘BLACK METAL’, an evocative masterpiece, indescribable were it not for the oft rejected, yet apt, term ‘hypnagogic pop.’ That’s right, ‘BLACK METAL’ is not a metal album: Blunt’s dislike of genre labels, or perhaps just his oddball disposition, bleeds even into the LP’s title.
Seven years later and we are treated to the sequel no one expected. ‘BLACK METAL 2’ is less sonically varied, less fleshed out and less than half the run time of its predecessor, and is still the best thing to come out this year. Joanne Robertson’s hauntingly beautiful vocals return, her heavenly voice exchanging verses with Blunt’s impassive spoken word.
Every song on the album, excluding closer the rot, feels like a snippet, too underdeveloped or switching up before fully forming.
Case in point, ZaZa is a deliciously catchy track for the first 40 seconds before snapping into something otherworldly and surreal. The listener is kept perpetually wanting more as songs seem to end before they have even made their point…
Architects – ‘For Those That Wish To Exist’ (Jake Longhurst)
Architects are a band in the form of their career, and they are continuing an unstoppable streak of albums with another jewel for their already very heavy crown. ‘For Those That Wish To Exist’ is the follow up to the absolutely incredible ‘Holy Hell’, which was written in the wake of the death of guitarist Tom Searle, brother to drummer Dan.
That record served as an outpouring of grief, but this latest release feels like a form of acceptance, and lets the band process and move on, whilst still celebrating his life and his part in their past, although by no means are they painting themselves into a corner, with plenty of politicism and current events being addressed. Musically, this album is just as strong as ever, with riffs aplenty, primordial drums, and the trademark singing/screaming of the ever-brilliant Sam Carter.
The album also includes some phenomenal featuring artists, such as the indomitable Winston McCall of Parkway Drive, as well as two British rock stalwarts, Simon Neil of Biffy Clyro and Mike Kerr of Royal Blood, which is a phenomenally strong set of names to add to any list.
On a track by track basis, the highlight for me is absolutely the lead single Animals, which features some of Sam Carter’s best sung vocal lines yet, as well as a chorus that was custom-built for arenas and festivals. The overall themes of hope, combined with individual topics like climate change, make this an album that should not be missed by anybody.
Tinashe – ‘333’ (Daria Paterek)
the replay value is insane
2021 delivered a wealth of incredible R&B albums. ‘333’ by Tinashe is one of my favourite albums released in 2021, and one of the best R&B albums in recent years. Largely underrated, Tinashe has delivered R&B excellence since her debut mixtape in 2012. ‘333’ is her second independent album, which continues to demonstrate her musical ability and versatility.
‘333’ is full of memorable songs, ranging from hyperpop, pop-rap to alt-R&B. Tinashe named her album ‘333’ because ‘’I felt like I was on the right path, in alignment with what I was meant to do. I just wanted to acknowledge that.” The album reflects on past relationships, her creative freedom, and self-discovery. ‘333’ is one of my favourite albums this year because the replay value is insane.
Due to its masterful production, ‘333’ sounds fresh every time you play it. From soulful, almost gospel-like tracks such as Let Go and Angels to high-tempo and vibrant songs such as X and Pasadena, there is a song for every mood you’re in. Once again, Tinashe shows that she is a multitalented vocalist, as she adapts to different styles.
Jazmine Sullivan – ‘Heaux Tales’ (Daria Paterek)
Jazmine Sullivan is a criminally underrated singer, despite her powerhouse vocals and comparisons to Lauryn Hill and Amy Winehouse. Sullivan is most known for her single ‘Bust Your Windows’. Twelve years later, Sullivan continues demonstrating her spectacular voice and powerful storytelling ability. ‘Heaux Tales’ is all about sex, love, and loss. The eight songs are interwoven with spoken-word interludes from different women who discuss their journeys with sex and self-discovery.
Sullivan delivers an ambitious concept flawlessly
The album begins with the track Bodies-Intro, as Sullivan reflects on pulling herself together after a one-night stand (‘‘B***h, get it together, b***h’;). The album ends with Girl Like Me (feat. H.E.R.), where Sullivan delves into the loss, loneliness, and frustration experienced after her lover leaves her for superficial reasons.
The song is raw and vulnerable, as Sullivan explores her insecurities after a breakup; ‘’now I sit at home judgin’ my body.’’ ‘Heaux Tales’ is masterful in its storytelling, as it takes the listener on a roller coaster of emotions, from anger (Pick Up Your Feelings) to confidence (On It). Sullivan delivers an ambitious concept flawlessly. Most importantly, ‘Heaux Tales’ explores the conflicting feelings that women have towards sex – sex as a tool of empowerment, whether it is financial, emotional, or physical, versus sex being seen as a source of shame.
Chase Atlantic – ‘BEAUTY IN DEATH’ (Amrit Virdi)
Australian alternative hip-hop trio Chase Atlantic displayed carefully crafted musical juxtaposition on their third studio album ‘BEAUTY IN DEATH’ released earlier this year, which is a cohesive reflection of their musical journey so far.
The album was written and recorded whilst the world went into lockdown, which required the band to look introspectively at themselves for musical inspiration. MOLLY and PLEASEXANNY tackle issues of mental health and drug use head on, albeit with different tones.
Yet interestingly both songs are written from the perspective of the user taking the drug, contrasting to previously released single SLIDE. This uses the perfect mixture of electronic synths and instrumentation as well as Mitchel Cave and Clinton Cave’s soft vocals to create a heart-breaking yet ethereal track about the realities of drug use, singing from the perspective of the drug.
Hi-hats and trap beats dominate the record’s production, which draws parallels to their previous albums ‘Chase Atlantic’ and ‘PHASES’. The band have become known for their distinctive alternative style, which even Spotify struggles to define in a playlist. The band make the most of experimental production, particularly on MOLLY, as the saxophone outro paired with the sound of police sirens makes for a cinematic experience, bringing some life to a seemingly bleak and pessimistic album (lyrics-wise).
While the majority of the record tackles darker themes, OUT THE ROOF and ALEYUH showcases the band’s light-hearted side, singing of what some find the ‘more fun’ side of fame, and resembling more closely the types of songs you may hear in a club or party setting. The collaboration with DE’WAYNE and Xavier Mayne on PLEASE STAND BY is also an energetic addition to the album to remind fans of the band’s versatility.
All in all, although the record is vastly similar to their previous releases and it would have been a welcome change to see some musical variation, ‘BEAUTY IN DEATH’ showcases the band doing what they do best – tackling topics many stray away from in an intriguing alternative style.
Lucinda Dodd, Alex Tearle, Tim Ovenden, Jake Longhurst, Daria Paterek and Amrit Virdi
Featured image courtesy of Alex Watkin. Permission to use granted to Impact. No changes were made to this image.
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