The Top 5 Alternative Albums Released in 2021

Usually, the end of the year is a time for pause and reflection, and maybe a little hedonism – if you’re so inclined. This year, that reflection can all too easily fall into bittered rumination when making sense of the months that led to this point. At the start of the year, we counted the months, weeks – or maybe if we were *really* desperate – the days since we were able to come together with the social glue of music. The return of live music didn’t exactly come hand in hand with enthusiasm for grassroots music. From our perspective, we’ve seen plenty of bands fly under the radar despite their ability to offer resonance hand over fist and do it with authenticity in their signature sound.

Here are the albums that cut through the 2021 static and resonated in spite of the mental fog. If you are still sleeping on these bands in 2022, you may as well be in a culture coma.

1.         Amigo the Devil – Born Against

Just when it was starting to feel like there would never be a new murder folk icon that could rival Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Amigo the Devil came along with his Grammy-nominated album, Born Against. From soul-wrenching raw Tom Waits vibes to a jaunty tune about slaughtering people in a bingo hall, Born Against covers it all and does it in a spectacularly quintessential fashion.

Just a few of the lyrics that affirmed that Amigo the Devil, AKA Danny Kiranos, is one of the best songwriters of our generation are “I don’t want to be different anymore, I’ve changed” and “I don’t think this world wants a sonnet anymore, I don’t think this world wants us on it anymore.” It comes as no surprise that Amigo the Devil gained plenty of new members to his cult following with this dynamic release that consistently shifts in style and tone while keeping the focus on the stellar songwriting. Check price on Amazon.

2.         Witch of the East – Savage Beauty

Witch of the East is easily one of the most criminally underrated artists in the UK right now; their deeply conceptual and spiritual flair is only matched by their ability to pull their arcane visions together in high-fidelity. Their sophomore album, Savage Beauty, starts with Aeris’ cat’s purrs through a distortion pedal before the entrancingly rhythmic single, Red, Yellow and Black, sends you back a few centuries with its mystic beguile.

Next, there’s the standout fiery alt-indie-rock anthem, Comfort Me, with guitars that are high-octane and slamming enough to fill a stadium paired with Aeris’ magnetically devilish-by-nature vocals. Comfort Me opens up about intimacy in a way that the airwaves definitely aren’t accustomed to. There is a particularly potent sting to “I don’t know who I trust, I don’t who to fuck / comfort me because I’m lonely, I’m lonely,” Any artist bold enough to turn such intimate and vulnerable thoughts into an anthemic triumph is worth a spot on your radar. Check price on Amazon.

3.         Desperate Journalist – Maximum Sorrow

Post-punk may have lost its place in the contemporary popularity stakes but Desperate Journalist’s 2021 album, Maximum Sorrow, takes you right back to the golden age of it with its new wave nuances and artfully morose inclination. It allows you to wonder why we ever lost the love for it in the first place.

There is an incredible humility to Desperate Journalist; they are shameless in the homages they make to pioneers with their atmospheric air, heavy dragging rhythm guitars and entrancingly doom-laden percussion. And therein lies their beauty. As the opening tracks, Formaldehyde and Fault, prove, the London-based outfit could get away with pretty much any sonic direction given the captivating glassy urgency in Jo Bevan’s vocals and their ability to build danceable tension from the bleakest of sonic moods. Though it is an un-skippable release, Personality Girlfriend is easily the standout track. As someone who has been referred to as a Manic Pixie Dream Girl more times than I can count, the vindicating release calls into question the obnoxiousness of assuming that eccentric women with personalities are saviours for men bored in their self-inflicted beige monotony. Check price on Amazon.

4.         Manic Street Preachers – The Ultra Vivid Lament

If there was ever a year to drop a consolingly sweet release filled with cascades of cheesy ABBA piano chords and socialist mantras, it was 2021. And that’s exactly what the Welsh icons did with their 2021 album, The Ultra Vivid Lament. As someone that had been under the impression that there was no coming back from their mediocre run of releases post-Gold Against the Soul, it felt like a feat of the impossible how much I fell for this release. I’d fallen in love with the Manics for their raw edginess, but I learned to love them again through their matured perspective on life and inclination to spill a little positivity – and I wasn’t alone. With The Ultra Vivid Lament, the Manics scored their first number one album in 23 years – once again beating STEPS to the mark. We had few victories in the music industry in 2021, but this can definitely be counted as one. Every left-leaning fan in the UK needed the lyric “Don’t let those boys from Eton suggest that we are beaten.” Check price on Amazon.

5.         Arab Strap – As Days Get Dark

The return of Arab Strap was a comeback like no other. The Scottish deadpan provocateurs signalled their return with the morbid disco single, The Turning of Our Bones, which allows you to imagine what Oscar Wilde’s writing would look like if he spent less time in opium dens and more time in crack dens in Glasgow. The rest of their 2021 album, As Days Get Dark, scarcely disappoints either. There’s an elegance to Arab Strap’s poetry, but that doesn’t stop them from lyrically cavorting in the filth of existence. Compersion, Pt. 1, unravels as a monologue of sweetly sordid affection; it almost makes you crave the same tainted passion that is lyrically exhibited between the pull of the drumbeats and white-hot overdriven guitars that add to the pool of sexual chemistry. Check price on Amazon.

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