We’re halfway through the year and sharing our favorite albums of 2021 thus far! Here’s John O’s list of current favs and some words about the releases.

Visit the store and check ’em out on our 2021 staff picks (thus far) display!

The COVID-influenced albums are beginning to reveal themselves, and it’s been interesting to see what people have come up with in a world where everything is open to question, and the future is murky at best. The Sleaford Mods album Spare Ribs is a prime example of artists using the isolation to good effect. The modern method of collaboration over the internet, sending tracks back and forth, is tailor made for a group like the Mods, who are fairly self-contained in normal times. This album, which was released in January of this year, is still my favorite record eight months later. The format is not different – repetitive loops and rap-influenced vocalizing – but they still make it fresh. Jason’s words are clever and barbed as usual, and Andrew’s backing tracks are layered ear worms. They are a special group to me, and they have never let me down.

I had lots of stuff on my list that has been covered on other lists. All of us on staff listen to one another’s picks on a daily basis. The Dry Cleaning record I still play often, and that Goat Girl record is great, too. Glenn and I have been trading hardcore and D-beat discoveries back and forth for the last year. Tommy Metz and AWarg know their way around the new bands that take electronics and psych-garage in new directions. Cora Lee has a great ear for the literate indie stuff out there. Zach and Ian are always trying to outdo each other with scabrous and harsh rap, and along with Rachel, bring a lot of creepy soundtrack music into the mix. Abbey grounds us with classic girl group sounds, as well as Beyoncé and Shannon (& the Clams ,too). JP is an adventurous and worldly listener. He’s been kicking the Mdou Moctar in-store, which is amazing Taureg guitar jams, but he loves the Merge Records label, too. Nick’s tastes and mine cross over so often that it’s hard to tell where mine leave off and his begins. We have been very fortunate to acquire staff members who are open and curious. I’m proud to work in this atmosphere, people questing and expanding their horizons. And ours, too.

My list:

Sleaford ModsSpare Ribs
Rodney CrowellTriage
Christian Löffler Parallels: Shellac Reworks
Jon Savage’s 1972-1976All Our Times Have Gone
Morgan WadeReckless

I go in and out of focus on these five; I mean, does a various artists collection of tracks from an English viewpoint really count? The Rodney Crowell disc I liked immediately, but it’s been out for a week or two. He’s always been a favorite, but can it really get on my list so quickly? Maybe Vince Neil Emerson belongs on the list. It’s great, too. Morgan Wade took a minute to “get,” but it just killed me when it did. Is it just because I don’t have new Sarah Shook or Jaime Wyatt music to listen to? The Löffler record occupies a liminal zone between ambient composer music, dance music and instrumental new age jams. It’s even on Deutsche Grammophon!

I can tell you that I will probably have more, different, other records on my list by the end of the year. So it goes. There is still a ton of old music I’ve never heard before. There are still more records to jam, and I’m going to do my best to give them all the respect they deserve. Still digging into Blood Lemon. Vince Staples put something out that hasn’t surfaced on physical. The man has my ear, and I’ll always listen. Curtis Stigers has something happening, and I hope I see it this fall. Amyl and the Sniffers, another Sturgill… The music is healthy, even though supply chain issues are bedeviling our industry just like many others. It will prevail. It always does.

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