2021 has been another great year for new music and emerging artists, but before we look at the great music to come, here are some albums I should have spent more time with in 2021; and you should too!
“Red (Taylor’s Version)” – Taylor Swift
Of all Taylor Swift’s catalog, “Red” (2013) is the album I know best; I bought it the day it came out, saw “Red” live, and remember being very much in love with the album. At the time, “Red” (2013) sounded a lot like a transitional album, which was obviously true when Swift transitioned from country-pop to conventional pop on her massively successful follow-up, “1989.”
At the time, I felt like the original “red” lacked an emotionally coherent structure; individual songs were good but lacked cohesive songwriting that hinted at an overall theme. On “Red” (2021), the same songs, having aged a few years now, feel much punchier on this round. For example, in the track “The Lucky One”, she sings: “And all the young people line up to take your place/Another name lights up in the lights/You wonder if you’ll make it out alive.” At the time of her release, her anxiety about being replaced was a bit presumptuous, but time has shown that her worries weren’t completely unfounded. Since the song’s release, we’ve seen pop stars come and go, and Swift’s supremacy over the music industry injects bitter emotion into her lyrics.
This new “Red” compensates for the weaknesses of the original by using a minute degree of nuance; the harmonies and chords she creates with layers of her voice sound fuller, organic and bodied than before. The sumptuous chords bring out the more reserved and dark tones and accentuate the thematic elements that glue the songs together. She achieves this through small shifts in a minor key between bars, exaggerating nuance on certain lingering notes, and most importantly, altering the overall tone of her songs to reflect her change in personality and character since the first “Red “.
Some songs land flat; his popular radio hits like “Trouble” and “We Are Never Getting Back Together” don’t stray too far from the originals and sound a bit like routine. They’re good for replacing the originals in your Taylor Swift playlist, but they don’t add anything to the songs and their styling feels a bit dated.
The biggest talking point about Red (2021) was the 10-minute version of his song “All Too Well”. Rumored to be about Swift’s relationship with actor Jake Gyllenhaal, I was afraid this song would be too indulgent, irrelevant and sound like it was “spreading dirty laundry”.
My apprehensions were entirely unfounded; “All Too Well” was a bold and ambitious attempt at musical art. The lyrics took their time to create a well-developed narrative, albeit lacking a bit of thematic substance, and the back half of the track is almost an entirely different song, mutated from the ashes of the original. The song was captivating, but the timeliness of the narrative content was a bit dated and felt out of place. Themes? Meh. Vision, application and execution? Flawless.
“Red” (2021) was a fearless attempt to improve on, rather than repeat, its previous incarnation. This new “Red” is full of passionate performance, stellar production and ingenuity.
“時間 (Jikan)” – bet!!
betcover!! is a Japanese Art-Rock band that I discovered recently, and I only wish I had heard about them sooner so that I could have included their 2021 release, “Jikan” (spelled in Japanese characters) on my list of the best albums of the year.
Pinning down their gender is difficult; I hesitate to call them a progressive rock band because of the influence of jazz and punk infused into their sound, but the influence of psychedelic and classical music is undeniable. Due to its experimental qualities and idiosyncratic soundscape, I think art-rock is the most appropriate label I can think of.
“Jikan” has this strange quality of capturing a visual style in its sound. The combination of jazz and punk, as well as psychedelic elements, gives the album a kind of “black” aesthetic. The musical elements sound very dark and cryptic; I don’t understand the lyrics, but the quality of the spoken voice along with the shady, distorted punk instruments playing jazz chords over jazz drum beats give it an aesthetic that I would expect from something like the Korean film, “Old Boy” (2003) or Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner” (1982).
The heavy reverb and deep bass lines give the music plenty of weight as if it drags the listener into a sweaty, smoky club until the violent guitars and vocal melodies disrupt the daydreaming quality to reveal the nuances of violence inherent in this seedy milieu.
Despite all the influences, this album is clearly rock music and unifies all the different genres in a very coherent and linear sonic adventure.
If Hollywood decides to remake “The Maltese Falcon” (1941), I found someone to do the soundtrack.
Check them out on Bandcamp
“Holocene” – Terafarad
I’m usually pretty cautious when someone recommends their own music to me, but my shell of apprehension was pierced by this mixtape’s refreshing authenticity and emotional focus on climate change. Ash Busse, who performs their solo work as Terafarad, is a San Diego-based musician I met while celebrating Hanukkah. Angered by the reality of climate change and discouraged by the inability to do anything about it, Busse decided to make a mixtape to vent their frustrations.
The tracks on “Holocene” each cover a different genre, but they all revolve around the different styles associated with the late 90s and early 2000s; most notably, old school hip hop, nu-metal and synth-rock. Looks like Alanis Morissette has teamed up with The Smashing Pumpkins and Immortal Technique to raise awareness about climate change.
The lyrics are sometimes a bit heavy for my taste, but the lack of subtlety gives them a strong sense of urgency. Busse’s performance, both vocally and instrumentally, is desperately passionate and poignant. The flow, rhythm and attack of the rap segments are full of bite and personality, while the instruments are mixed in an aggressive style that never regresses into muddled distortion, but is full of wild synth solos and riffs. heartbreaking guitar notes that mimic an unbridled style. ferocity.
While some of the lyrics are a little too highbrow (referring to Voltaire and Robespierre in an overly NPR-like way), there’s a lot of relatability and pathos in the rest of the songs. Most notably in the song “Fire Nation,” Busse compares the destruction of California’s forests to the fictional “Fire Nation,” the main antagonists of the 2005 Nickelodeon animated series “Avatar: The Last Airbender.”
“Everything changed when the Fire Nation attacked” was a popular quote from the show that’s been memorized to death, but the connection in this song is refreshingly strong and grounded.
The project is only about 20 minutes long, and while I wish there were more, the project length is perfect. There’s only so much frustration you can throw at a subject as important as climate change before it becomes repetitive, or worse, and “Holocene” has just the perfect amount of frustration and condemnation to avoid one or the other.
Busse shows a lot of creative talent and technical skills on “Holocene” and I look forward to Terafarad’s mixtapes or albums in the future.
Find them on Bandcamp at:
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From: Tony Le Calvez