RECORD EXCHANGE 2021 STAFF PICKS (THUS FAR): CORA LEE (SHE/THEY)

We’re halfway through the year and sharing our favorite albums of 2021 thus far! Here’s Cora Lee‘s list of current favs.

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

Lucy DacusHome Video

Slaughter Beach, DogAt the Moonbase

CHAI Wink

Cautious Clay Deadpan Love

Girl in RedIf I Could Make It Go Quiet

RECORD EXCHANGE 2021 STAFF PICKS (THUS FAR): CHAD (HE/HIM)

We’re halfway through the year and sharing our favorite albums of 2021 thus far! Here’s Chad’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!

Live music is making its way back into our lives, and I’m grateful for that on several levels, first and foremost because working musicians are getting back to making a living on the stage. But as someone who has attempted to turn the pandemic lemon into lemonade at every turn, I’m also grateful that the pause in live performances yielded some incredible new music that only got made because the artists making it had nothing else to do but stay home and work on their craft. Seriously, I can’t remember a recent year bursting with this much good music, or being this excited about all of it.

And for the first time in a long time, I feel like I can’t keep up. My listening to-do list currently numbers two dozen 2021 albums I haven’t even dented yet, and there’s even more music on the way this summer and fall that I can’t wait to hear.

The five albums on my mid-year list feature sounds that are exciting and fresh, steeped in nostalgia or somewhere in between, and it’s the in between where I’ve found my ears happily residing in recent years.

Black Country, New Road – For the first time

For the first time comes on like the back-alley turducken baby of Tindersticks, Slint and Fontaines D.C. – freakish and delectable. It sounds like it could all fall apart at any moment, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this overly-talented band self-destructs within two years, but for now we get a ringside seat to a musical tug-of-war between restraint and abandon and an unreliable narrator spitting absolute lyrical gems like “I am invincible in these sunglasses / I am the Fonz, I am the Jack of Hearts … I’m a modern Scott Walker / I’m a surprisingly smooth talker / And I’m invincible in these sunglasses.”

Bicep – Isles

My favorite electronic album of the year (thus far, of course). Sometimes Isles comes on like Boards of Canada if they had actually tried to make music for the club, other times is reminds me of the tribal-inflected 1995 house classic Leftism by Leftfield. But mostly, the album takes me into the modern realm of ethereal and emotional electronic music populated by the likes of Bonobo and Jamie xx, and if you dig those artists, don’t take a pass on this one.

Dry Cleaning – New Long Leg

John O. gushed about Dry Cleaning until just about everyone on staff listened, and now we’re all fans. Imagine Siri – and yes, I’m talking about the smartphone assistant – reprogrammed to share poetic non sequiturs and observational stories from modern bohemian Europe over arty mid-tempo post-punk and you have New Long Leg, a captivating album that pulls you further into its strange world with each listen.

Twit One – Objets Trouvés

Twit One played a part in one of my favorite albums of 2020, Testiculo y Uno’s Two, of which I remarked at last year’s midpoint that I never tire of sample-laden, jazz-inflected instrumental hip-hop. Here we are a year later, with the noir head-nod opus that is Objets Trouvés, and I still can’t get enough.

Arlo Parks – Collapsed in Sunbeams

From Belle & Sebastian to the Goon Sax, some of my favorite albums are by young people making music about being young. Twenty-one-year-old Arlo Parks chronicles her particular place in the world at her particular age with poetic grace and insightful perspective, delivered with a casual tone that invites the listener in like a conversation with a trusted friend. The best writing colors a story with details that are so specific they achieve something universal, and if that doesn’t make sense to you, listening to this fantastic record will.

RECORD EXCHANGE 2021 STAFF PICKS (THUS FAR): JOHN O (HE/HIM)

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.