The Best Music of 2021: An Introduction

2021 was more of the same, when it should not have been.

I got through 2020 okay. A little scarred, a little sad that my wife Stacey and I couldn’t resume our lives the way we had hoped, but still hopeful because there was a vaccine just around the corner. We were all going to beat this pandemic. The solution was there, in plain sight.

The new year had other plans, starting on January 6. In the most astonishing moment in American history during my lifetime, the former president Trump implored his white nationalist followers to storm the Capitol, and what followed was unimaginable mayhem. But it was the aftermath that changed the immediate future: misinformation, which was already running rampant among the uneducated and the gullible, was soon being manipulated by the political right wing. The doublethink had increased to frightening levels: practically overnight, people were saying the insurrectionists weren’t violent, Biden stole the election, and the covid vaccine was an attempt to strip freedoms away from all (let’s say it, white) individuals.

Just like covid, that disease drifted north of the border too, as Alberta and Saskatchewan started using similar tactics. Government statements were now torrents of lies – Trumpism’s tactic of obfuscation via chaos – and the only thing that mattered was protecting the “rights” and “freedoms” of the anti-vaxx crowd, which makes up approximately 20% of the population in this part of Canada. So while we should be well past 80% double-vaccinated by now, we’re stuck in the low 70s. A fifth wave is now on the horizon because our morally bankrupt governments still refuse to believe science, we are in for another downcast xmas, and Stacey is staring at her third pandemic birthday in March. All of it was avoidable. The overwhelming majority of Canadians approve of vaccine mandates, getting vaccinated for the greater good, but that obnoxious minority is prolonging everyone else’s anxiety and misery.

Needless to say the pandemic and Western Canada’s lack of preparedness dominated my year, in my head constantly, day and night. My work kept its mask mandate through Saskatchewan’s brazen “re-opening”, and the fights with (mostly rural male) customers were brutal, mentally draining. We had so many nutjobs yell at us and threaten us. By September 30 I was on the verge of a severe breakdown; I was walking around with a fog in my head as my mind tried desperately to keep the world at an arm’s length so my body could go through the motions at work. I snapped out of the massive depression in late October and have been doing great since, but I might need a change of scenery. I can’t deal with the public anymore. Entitled white men trigger me. Anti-vaxxers, society’s biggest enemy, trigger me. I have regular nightmares of attacks from customers. Heck, trucks trigger me now, for crying out loud. Trucks! That’s not right.

Still, I’ve tried very hard to have a good year, and Stacey and I have had lots to smile about. We didn’t make it to Europe, but our fingers are crossed for May 2022. We were vaccinated in spring and summer, and expect to get our boosters in early 2022. We enjoyed the heck out of our new apartment’s glorious patio, spending hours out there from May through September. Stacey has an incredible eye for home design and decoration, and our place feels like a true home more and more. We got to see our nieces and nephew continue to grow into cool, hilarious people, and we welcomed a new nephew in October. I resumed bus commutes in July after a 15-month absence, and dove right back into reading, which has been wonderful for my mental health, not to mention cheaper than gas. We got to be out and about a little more and more as the year went on, and we’re so thankful for vaccine passports.

And yes, there’s been plenty of music, which is why this blog exists, right? Our biggest music-related happening was a much unexpected but VERY welcome return trip to FME in Rouyn-Noranda Quebec, our first visit there since 2017. We saw our first concerts in more than a year and a half (Voivod! Cadence Weapon! Backxwash! Loads more!) enjoyed the gorgeous northern scenery and cheap beer, and were even treated to a bonus night in Montreal, which we took full advantage of.

As usual I’ve done my best to keep an ear open for good new music, and while there’s plenty of it to talk about in the coming days the plain truth is that I continue to find sanctuary in music that’s comfortable to me. To wit: Blue Öyster Cult, Rush, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Thin Lizzy, Pink Floyd, Can. I’ve been defaulting to musical comfort food, seeking familiarity just for a little semblance of stability. If the world is going nuts around me, at least I can control what I’m listening to. Good new music still excites me, but the challenge now is that I have to look a lot harder to find more of it that I actually want to hear.

I do have a bevy of good music, new and old, to write about over the next 23 days, and the usual routine applies after 21 years: daily posts – themed again rather than ranked – culminating in a deep dive into my Album of the Year on December 24. Keep checking this site for updates, or follow me on Instagram as well, as the daily links will be in my stories. Again, thanks so much for reading. I have a very small audience, but dangit, the feedback I receive is always encouraging. I do this for myself first, and if anyone else enjoys it I’m honoured. So let’s enjoy some tunes that got me through the year, and if you discover something cool that you’ve never heard before, that’s even better. Life would be awful without the escape that music provides.

Death to fascism, Qanon, insurrectionists, anti-vaxxers, the Catholic Church, toxic masculinity, the Republican party, the Saskatchewan Party, white privilege, social conservatism, the pro-life movement, conversion therapy, heteronormativity, patriarchies, climate change denial, Trumpism, “f**k Trudeau” stickers, and right-wing extremism in the metal scene. Every child matters. Defund and demilitarize the police. Black Lives Matter. Go Habs, and guys, please don’t draft another sexual predator in June. Up the Irons. Enjoy life.

1. Róisín Murphy, Róisín Machine
2. Dua Lipa, Future Nostalgia
3. Jessie Ware, What’s Your Pleasure?
4. Deftones, Ohms
5. Hayley Williams, Petals For Armor
6. AC/DC, Power Up
7. Haim, Women in Music Pt. III
8. Imperial Triumphant, Alphaville
9. Grimes, Miss Anthropocene
10. Blue Oyster Cult, The Symbol Remains

Past albums of the year (uh, please bear in mind I was sixteen when I started this):

1986: Iron Maiden – Somewhere In Time
1987: Def Leppard – Hysteria
1988: Queensryche – Operation: Mindcrime
1989: Voivod – Nothingface
1990: Megadeth – Rust In Peace, Led Zeppelin Box Set (tie)
1991: Soundgarden – Badmotorfinger
1992: R.E.M. – Automatic For The People
1993: Nirvana – In Utero
1994: Pavement – Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain
1995: Elastica – Elastica
1996: Pulp – Different Class
1997: Bob Dylan – Time Out Of Mind
1998: Monster Magnet – Powertrip
1999: Metallica – S & M
2000: Yo La Tengo – …And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out
2001: Bob Dylan – Love And Theft, The Langley Schools Music Project – Innocence & Despair (tie)
2002: The Streets – Original Pirate Material
2003: Manitoba – Up in Flames
2004: Arcade Fire – Funeral
2005: Opeth – Ghost Reveries
2006: Mastodon – Blood Mountain
2007: Alcest – Souvenirs d’un Autre Monde
2008: Fucked Up – The Chemistry of Common Life
2009: Fever Ray – Fever Ray
2010: Best Coast – Crazy For You
2011: Fucked Up – David Comes to Life
2012: Rush – Clockwork Angels
2013: Paramore – Paramore
2014: fka twigs – LP1
2015: Iron Maiden – The Book of Souls
2016: Kaytranada – 99.9%
2017: Zola Jesus – Okovi
2018: Ghost – Prequelle
2019: Lana Del Rey – Norman Fucking Rockwell!
2020: Róisín Murphy – Róisín Machine