AADL 2021 Staff Picks: Audio


AADL 2021 Staff Picks: Audio

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Music, podcasts, CDs, records, and more:



Lil Nas X
From the music videos, the new album, the characters, to the Maury appearance, everything he does is perfection. {Website}



Literally anything by BTS
I put off listening to BTS for as long as possible because I knew that once I started I wouldn’t be able to stop, and I was not wrong. What’s not to like? They have a rap line, they have a vocal line, they have a dance line. They’ve got hype songs, they’ve got slow jams, they’ve got bops. I just saw them in concert in Los Angeles and they were somehow even more talented in person? Incredible. {AADL}



Factually! with Adam Conover podcast
Comedian Adam Conover (best known for his show Adam Ruins Everything) interviews experts in their fields on a wide range of topics. It's a serious but casual conversation with a few jokes thrown in now and again. I've learned a lot about the world by listening. {Earwolf}



Tomorrow X Together
The Chaos Chapter: Freeze

You've heard (or are already a fan) of BTS—time to meet their younger and equally talented label mates! TXT’s greatest challenge since their debut is the assumption and allegations that their popularity is due to being on the same label as BTS. With this album, they blow those completely out of the water and truly cement themselves as individuals. TXT has been writing songs with the biting edge and melodrama of Gen Z since their debut but they really lean into it here with emo-punk flavored title tracks, an Ashnikko collab, and depressingly honest lyrics. {Website}

Tyler the Creator
Call Me If You Get Lost

I loved this album. If you liked IGOR, Flower Boy, or any of Tyler's other projects you'll love this, too. The beats, the features, the lyrics all of it is Tyler absolutely at the top of his game. {Website}

Lil Nas X
I was just going to say MONTERO, but honestly, everything Lil Nas X has been doing this year has been revolutionary. He's creating music in a space that has never been accepting of black queer men, and he's doing it on his terms. And all of it slaps. {Website}

If you've even dipped your toe into the K-pop world (or even if you haven't tbh), you've heard of this powerhouse girl group. Millions of fans, amazing choreography, dozens of chart-topping hits, and here I was sleeping on them for YEARS. All of their singles are unique, catchy, filled with good energy and literal ear crack I can't even describe it any other way. The number of times I looped "Yes or Yes" while running this year should be a crime. {Website}



Emphatically No.

My kid discovered this L.A.-based pop-rock trio that describes themselves as "America's Local Band," and ever since in the car, it's 100% Cheekface. Leader of the cresting wave of Talk Singing, every Cheekface song is a catchy hilarious-yet-vulnerable joy. Don't miss their 2019 release Therapy Island. {Bandcamp} {Spotify}



Torn Arteries

Look no further—this is the album of the year for 2021. These guys are legends that don’t owe the world any new material, and yet in their 50s keep giving us albums that handily put all imitators (and there are many) to shame. Flawless, menacing, fun, 10/10. {Bandcamp}

Glow On 

Feel-good album of the year, for one of the least feel-good years on record. Hardcore at its heart, but plenty of other genre curveballs to be found here. {YouTube}

Where The Gloom Becomes Sound

Stadium-ready goth-y business, while still retaining the pitch-perfect death/black metal elements in their lush song structures. While it’s sadly the last album of theirs to feature founding guitarist Jonathan Hulten, his influence here is obvious, and his swansong is truly a triumph. {YouTube}

Paul Gilbert
Werewolves of Portland

Joyful and shockingly musical six-stringery from the very best living guitarist. No vocals to be had, but the lead playing here fills in and makes for a very fun listen. {Bandcamp}


Some truly inspired guitar mastery here, courtesy of Wes Hauch. Pummeling/groovy death metal for the most part, with some melancholy melodic passages to shake things up. {YouTube}

Visions of Trismegistos

Just an absolute masterclass of out-of-control thrash metal with some black/death influences. A very raw analog recording transports the listener back to the ’80s and immediately turns your shoes into high-top Nikes. {Bandcamp}

Dealin’ Death

Some more fantastic '80s throwback thrash metal dripping with attitude, this time with plenty more horror influences and cavernous reverb. Don’t have any fragile glass nearby when that first shriek hits! {Bandcamp}

Cannibal Corpse
Violence Unimagined

C’mon—it’s Cannibal Corpse, you know exactly what this is going to sound like. With Erik Rutan on board as a full member now, they just keep getting better, and the riffs are somehow even meaner. {Bandcamp}

The Night Flight Orchestra
Aeromantic II

Oh my god, these guys are so fun I can hardly stand it. A bunch of folks from various death metal bands very earnestly playing Styx/Journey styled AOR songs that are expertly written. Quit being an elitist and surrender to these hooks! {Bandcamp}

God Ends Here

As the title suggests, maybe don’t play this one for your grandparents. Towering, crushing, hateful death metal perfection. {Bandcamp}

Every Time I Die

I haven’t given these guys much attention since the mid-2000s, and this album proves that may have been a mistake. Big metallic riffs with catchy choruses, and I think I’d go as far as to say “Post Boredom” is a perfect rock song. {Bandcamp}

Bleed the Future

Absolutely ridiculous, over the top tech-death mastery, with every instrument (voice included) going a million miles an hour. Normally this kind of stuff doesn’t work for me, and it can be very difficult for the average listener to digest, but the very strong sense of melody woven into these tightly wound tracks is infectious and beyond impressive. {Bandcamp}

Silk Sonic
And Evening With Silk Sonic

And now for something COMPLETELY different! “Leave the Door Open” is and was one of the best songs I heard in 2021, and thankfully, the full length from Silk Sonic doesn’t have a bad song in the bunch. It’s super smooth, impossibly catchy, and overall an impeccable throwback to the era of R&B that tickles my ears the most. {YouTube}

Converge and Chelsea Wolfe

Nearly an hour of dark, moody, sprawling, heavy gloom. The hidden hero of this record is Cave In vocalist Steve Brodsky, adding an extra layer of heaviness/psychedelic elements to the guitars, and a third layer of vocal harmonies to the cauldron. {Bandcamp}

Persona Non Grata

Released barely under the wire in late November, this is a thrash metal masterpiece from one of the greats of the genre. The vocals are still cartoonish (I love 'em), and the riff barrage from Gary Holt is nonstop. A career-defining return to form. {YouTube}



Octavia's Parables podcast
In addition to being immersed in Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents, I was able to further dig into the storyline through this podcast. Hosted by Adrienne Marie Brown (who I mentioned in my book picks for her stunning new novel) and Toshi Reagon (an incredible musician and creator of the Parable of the Sower Opera), they deep dive into the books, chapter-by-chapter. Each episode wraps up with by a series of questions for listeners to self-reflect. I gained so much from being able to sit with the questions and my journal. I felt a little sad when I finished the second season, but thankfully they are continuing with more of Butler's work. {Website}



70 Over 70 podcast
Tired of 30 under 30 lists, Max Linsky set out to interview 70 guests over the age of 70 about their lives, their careers, and "making the most of the time that we have left." Each episode begins with a story from a "caller," over 70, and then Max interviews a well-known figure like Andé De Shields or Dionne Warwick. {Pineapple Street Studios}

Various Artists
Sex Education soundtrack

The soundtrack to this show is so good! It's anchored by the melancholic voice of Ezra Furman but features plenty of great blues, pop, and rock tunes. {Spotify}

Noah Gundersen
Pillar of Salt
A new album from one of my favorite singer-songwriters (with a great feature from Phoebe Bridgers on "Atlantis") to help me get through the winter. {Spotify}



Olivia Rodrigo

Olivia Rodrigo is beyond talented and has the ability to transport you back to 17 in the best and most angsty ways. {AADL}



Flying Lotus


Laurel Premo 
Golden Loam




Your Hero Is Not Dead


David Gray 


Tori Amos 
Ocean to Ocean


Japanese Breakfast 


Sunny War 
Simply Syrup


Snail Mail 


Arlo Parks 
Collapsed in Sunbeams


Sun June


Jane Weaver 
The Silver Globe


The Jealous Curator: Art for Your Ear podcast 
Danielle Krysa

Saturdays, bi-monthly; Co-loop Podcast Network. {Website}

Creative Pep Talk podcast
Andy J. Pizza

Wednesdays, Co-loop Podcast Network. {Website}

Hysteria podcast
Thursdays, Crooked Media. {Website}

99% Invisible podcast

Judge John Hodgman podcast

Now & Then with Heather Cox Richardson and Joanne Freeman podcast

Southlake podcast

Stuff the British Stole



The Moody Blues
On the Threshold of a Dream

With Graeme Edge dying recently, I've been revisiting favorite albums by The Moody Blues. On the Threshold of a Dream is my favorite album by them. I love the way each song drifts nicely into the next. "Have You Heard (Part One)," "The Voyage," and "Have You Heard (Part Two)" are my favorite parts of the album. I just love the music. {Amazon}

The Moody Blues
A Question of Balance

While it's not my favorite, I enjoy A Question of Balance a lot. "Question" is an awesome song as are "And the Tide Rushes In" and "Melancholy Man." I'd probably call it my second favorite album behind On the Threshold of a Dream. {AADL}

The Moody Blues
Every Good Boy Deserves Favour

Again, not my favorite, but this album is thoroughly beautiful. "The Story in Your Eyes" is one of those songs that just gets you up and moving (or at least it does me!). And "Emily's Song" is sweet. {AADL}

The Piano Guys

This is one of two new albums by The Piano Guys this year and may be the last physical CD albums they put out! The songs are meant to be soothing and soft. They totally are. There are even hard rock songs that you don't think will be soothing and relaxing—yet they are! The Piano Guys are one of my favorite groups and this album does not disappoint! {Amazon}

The Piano Guys

This is the other new album this year and much like Chill, it does not disappoint. It has hard rock songs you'd think wouldn't be calm and soothing, but they are! Another great album from a great group! {Amazon}

Trans-Siberian Orchestra
Christmas Eve and Other Stories

I've been listening to this album in preparation for seeing Trans-Siberian Orchestra live in concert this year! They're one of my top favorite groups and this is my favorite album. I like all the albums, they're all brilliantly done, but this one is my favorite. The way the whole album tells a story is wonderful. My favorite song is "The Old City Bar," which is closer to the end of the CD. My favorite line of the song says, "If you want to arrange it, this world you can change it. If we could somehow make this Christmas thing last. By helping a neighbor or even a stranger. To know who needs help, you need only just ask." When I see them in concert, that part always makes me cry! Highly highly recommend this album if you like rock 'n' roll Christmas! {Amazon}



Glow On

This is a genre-bending album that may have listeners rethinking their stances on hardcore and pop-punk. It’s groovy and melodic without losing its edge. {Website}

Jon Batiste
We Are

I wasn’t previously familiar with Batiste outside his role on The Late Show, but this album changed that for me. It’s joyous, thoughtful, and just so much fun to listen to. {AADL}

Pino Palladino & Blake Mills
Notes With Attachments

Blending jazz, funk, West African music, and more, this album is an impressionistic wonderland. A can’t miss for jazz or funk fans. {Spotify



Relative Fiction podcast
When she was 18 years old, Nicole J. Georges went to a palm reader who told her that her father was alive—even though she’d been told by her family all her life that her father died of cancer when she was a baby. The palm reader wasn’t right about anything else, but it turned out that Georges' father was indeed alive. And the story just gets weirder from there. I binged this six-episode podcast, in which Georges peels back layers of her family’s secrets like an onion. Relative Fiction explores so many themes related to blood family, chosen family, and the contradictions that live inside each person. LGBTQ+ listeners will find it especially relatable. Bonus reading: Calling Dr. Laura, the graphic memoir that leaves off where Relative Fiction picks up. {Website}



They Might Be Giants
John Henry

John Henry marks a turning point for They Might Be Giants; since their debut album in 1986, the group had consisted of two guys and a drum machine (plus their ridiculous combined catalog of instruments). But after eight years of recording and touring, they finally upgraded to a full six-piece band. Apparently, the change was a controversial one, and some longtime fans went as far as boycotting shows in protest. As a retrospective listener, I think it's one of their strongest albums. Weighing in at 20 tracks, it's got all the TMBG essentials—creepy-sad lyrics belying cheery melodies, layered harmonic vocals, a smattering of hauntingly weird character-driven songs, and more accordion than you would expect—with the electrifying energy of a packed studio coming through on heavy electric guitar and plenty of horns. {Website}

Lil Nas X

Lil Nas X's debut album landed in September, more than two years after the historic success of "Old Town Road" made him a household name. There is far more to be said about this album than can fit here.  This Variety review is worth a read. {Website}



John Mayer
Sob Rock 

A wonderfully produced album by my favorite artist (*cringe*, I know). It’s well-written, well-produced, and filled with infectious progressions, melodies, and great musical phrases for us musicians out there to enjoy analyzing. The well-versed listener will be able to pick out some clear homages to popular bands from the ’80s (try to not hear the Dire Straits in Mayer’s “Wild Blue”). {AADL}

Jake LeMond

A musician from Southeast Michigan, Jake LeMond spends most of his time recording a touring as part of Jason Singer’s musical project Michigander. However, Jake managed to release a few songs of his own this year, “Miles” being one of them. I’ve been a fan of his solo work since I met him almost a decade ago. His music always manages to weave together unforgettable melodies and longing lyrics in a way that would perfectly score any indie movie’s "heartbreak" scene. {Youtube}

Loot the Body
Hex Vol 2. 

Do you like Dungeons and Dragons? Then you’re going to LOVE Loot the Body. This artist crafts songs ranging from folk and to tavern shanties to hard-hitting modern rock (a la Muse or Queens of the Stone Age)—all lyrically based on old D&D adventure novels. Definitely check out his latest album available, only on Bandcamp at the time of writing (his other work is available on Spotify though!). The guitar riff on "Sunless Citadel" will have you cranking the volume to 11. {Bandcamp}



Lil Nas X

The long-awaited album is here! Since the release of "Old Town Road," Lil Nas X has grown as both a human and an artist, and his album MONTERO breaks down expectations for what it means to be a Black artist. Lil Nas X has been incredibly courageous and has broken down barriers for other artists. Not to mention, every song on this album is a bop! {Website}

Urgent Care podcast
Have you ever needed an advice podcast that spews sometimes-terrible advice? Well, you've come to the right place! Joel Kim Booster and Mitra Jouhari, two of my favorite comedians, give both realistic and over-the-top advice to their callers and emailers. (Appropriate for adults only.) {Website}

Teaching Hard History podcast
Hosted by Hasan Kwame Jeffries, this series produced by the Southern Poverty Law Center is an amazing resource for teachers. Ever wanted to teach the history of American Slavery, the Civil Rights Movement, or the Jim Crow Era but not sure how to approach it? Or, have you wanted to learn more than was taught to you in school? This is the place to learn. With special guests, access to teaching resources on their website, and examples from teachers on how to approach topics, Teaching Hard History is an incredible resource for both teachers, students, and everyday people. {Website}



Friends at the Table podcast
As host Austin Walker says at the beginning of each session, "Friends at the Table is an actual play podcast about critical worldbuilding, smart characterization, and fun interaction between good friends." There are seven seasons so far, and if you're not sure where to start, they have a handy little flowchart on their website to guide you, based on what sort of listener you are (I'm usually stubborn about consuming my media "in order." I jumped in at season six last year, and then started at the top with season one this year, and everything still makes total sense). Characters, like the players themselves, are casually diverse, without any need for an explanation of "why" (as you tend to see in a lot of media). They're queer, people of color, young, old, neurodiverse—I could go on. They have seasons that are in fantasy settings (that they go out of the way to avoid typical fantasy tropes in), and sci-fi seasons with mechs and aliens (and their aliens aren't just blue humans, I promise). And one of my favorite aspects of the whole thing is that there's a fan-led project, paid for by the creators of the podcast, to transcribe every episode; so if you (like me) struggle to follow podcasts because they aren't accessible to you, you should check this one out! I honestly can't say enough good things about it. {Website}



Myths and Legends podcast
Jason Weiser tells myths, legends, and folklore stories from many cultures. The storytelling is spot on. And while kids could certainly listen to these stories, the way they're told has a certain panache, timing, and humor that is best appreciated by adult audiences. For example in Episode 245, "Pretty Pretty Pirate," Weiser elaborates on the how: "It was a pretty strange business model for a sorcerer but clearly this guy was all abut disrupting the current system with a new approach." While they have these fun, currently relevant phrasings and asides, they aren't retold or "retwisted" in a way that makes the plot have a different outcome, so much as they are embracing contemporary linguistic colloquialisms while occasionally poking at oddities that we all recognize are odd but hadn't yet mentioned. {Website} {Spotify}



Andrew Bird
Are You Serious

I've been a lowkey fan of Bird since listening to the titular "Pulaski at Night" off his 2013 album, but I rediscovered him this year and his album Are You Serious quickly made its way to the top of my On Repeat on Spotify. The album's more upbeat instrumentals tied with Bird's passion for wordplay make this album an easy-to-listen introduction to the singer-songwriter. Not ready for a full album? Check out the titular "Are You Serious" and/or "Roma Fade" for a taste test! {AADL}

Lady Lamb
Ripely Pine 

This past year I went ravenous for Lady Lamb's work. Aly Spaltro, THE Lady Lamb, explores sexuality and religion with haunting expertise, both with her poetry-like lyrics and her command over instruments. I was first introduced to her work through "You Are the Apple" and by the end of it, I could feel the ache and longing that Spaltro sang of so vividly that I immediately spent the next week pouring over the rest of her discography—and then consequently the entirety of the summer. You can feel her physically through her emotions in the way she lets herself crack and break and reform all in the span of one hour. {YouTube}

Something Was Wrong podcast
As someone who tends to listen to more comedy or fiction-focused podcasts, Tiffany Reese's Something Was Wrong was a big departure for me. However, after my friend started playing season three for me whenever we had to drive somewhere I started making up reasons to drive for hours, waiting with bated breath to see what the next twist in the story would be. Something Was Wrong explores survivors of relationships with people who are pathological liars, narcissists, and gaslighters, shedding awareness on the different forms of abuse people may face in all different forms. The podcast listens like a true crime, with all very true, very real events but without the blood and guts, ranging from lying fiances, to family friends, to the Jonestown massacre. Reese is an amazingly personable presence on the pod, always making both the interviewees and listeners feel comfortable and safe. With that in mind, however, please mind any and all content warnings on the episodes, particularly with season three. {AudioChuck}



Eurovision 2021
This year was my first time watching Eurovision, and it ruined my life for months. Longtime Eurovision fans claim that this year's competition may have been the best ever, even though the overall winner was zzzzzzzz. Here are four of my favorites out of the 39 participating countries, with honorable mentions and apologies to Denmark, Australia, Latvia, Estonia, Croatia, Switzerland, and Israel:
- Daði og Gagnamagnið, Iceland, "10 Years"
- Barbara Pravi, France, "Voila"
- Go_A, Ukraine, "Shum"
- Tix, Norway, "Fallen Angel"

True Widow

Listening to this record, and particularly the song "Four Teeth," is what I would imagine (or maybe know?) it's like being haunted by a really attractive ghost. {Bandcamp}



Black Sea Dahu
White Creatures

The band This Is the Kit never quite gelled for me, but Black Sea Dahu from Switzerland came along to give me everything I wanted in a similar folk-rock style. Janine’s voice is so haunting and sad. The live videos I've seen online are even better than the album versions. {YouTube}



Rolling With Rainbows podcast
There is only one podcast that I am currently listening to, Rolling with Rainbows. It’s an actual play podcast currently focused on a Call of Cthulhu campaign, based on the works of H.P. Lovecraft. As the title suggests, this is a group of queer people playing pen-and-paper RPGs. The opening campaign is titled “The Horror at Narragansett,” taking place during the Prohibition era in Narragansett, Rhode Island. Game master Sophie From Mars provides a cadre of voices for nonplayer characters … and creatures. Join the party as they fight giant bugs, a Jersey Devil analogue, and early 20th-century sexism! Can our heroes solve the mystery of Narragansett? Can they survive their encounters with the unexplained? Or will they lose their minds, trying to fathom the unfathomable? {Website}

Lil Nas X

This album slaps. Lil Nas X knocked it out of the park with this one, crafting hit after hit. Personal faves include "Lost in the Citadel" and "One of Me" (featuring Elton John on piano). The latter song is a response to those who liked Nas’ track “Old Town Road” but were critical of him expressing himself in newer tracks. The main crux of the issue is Lil Nas X came out publicly as gay following his success on the rap-country song. So more and more Nas has pushed the envelope in expressing his sexuality through his songs and music videos. He faced backlash for the imagery in the music video for the album's title track, in which he sexualized himself and gave an intimate dance to the devil. While arguments would be made against the devilish imagery, a lot of critiques came from how gay the video was. While the music industry has a reputation over the years of overtly sexualizing women, Nas has lyrics like, “Need a boy who can cuddle with me all night.” Those are the opening lyrics to Montero’s “That’s What I Want,” which as of writing this, plays on the radio constantly. And personally, I’m overjoyed to hear a song get so much play that opens with a man saying that. As a friend once said to me, "Representation saves lives." The LGBTQ+ community needs more visibility in popular music, and Lil Nas X does it with style, and in defiance of those who would see the queer community stay silent. {Website}



Marvin Gaye
What's Going On

A quietly powerful album interrogating many chronic American social ills. Certain songs were familiar to me before (like the devastating "Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)"), but I listened to this classic Marvin Gaye album for the first time earlier this year as part of the AADL Black Lives Matter Discussion Series. It's a singular musical experience. {AADL}


Inveterate outsider pop musician Momus was born to make this album, a reckoning with the dread, uncertainty, and absurdity of life amidst the coronavirus pandemic. Momus himself fell ill for several days in the spring of 2020, prompting him to reflect on his mortality and pump out 15 tracks inside just a few feverish months. No less than two songs on Vivid are directly addressed to the coronavirus itself, and there are plenty of rowdy, awkward saxophones honking around throughout. If the idea of a solid hour of COVID-inspired pop songs appeals to you even remotely, check this out. {AADL}

More Singable Songs

Every single song is a stone-cold jam, suitable for the very-young listener and otherwise. It withstands heavy rotation. {AADL}

Traunt Chelsch
"The Peninsular Dream"

A soaring folkish ode to Michigan, from the upcoming latest installment of The Saturday Show: The Album. Best enjoyed around bedtime. {AADL.tv}



Wolf Alice
Blue Weekend

A female-led rock album with influences ranging from bedroom pop to metal and even country. Love love love it. {YouTube]


40 minutes of unwinding. {Bandcamp}  

Sufjan Stevens and Angelo de Augustine
A Beginner's Mind

A folk beauty with strong elements of indie rock and some psychedelic undertones. Each track on the album is based on a different film, and the album itself is dedicated to the director Jonathan Demme. It isn't really a concept album though, and while you listen to the lush vocals, surreal melodies, and heartbreaking lyricism, it seems like the relationship between the songs and the films is merely a coincidence. Check out the music video for "Reach Out." {Youtube}



Butter (2021)
Be (2020) {AADL}
Map of the Soul: 7 (2020) {AADL}
Map of the Soul: Persona (2019) {AADL}
Love Yourself: Answer (2018) {AADL}
Face Yourself (2018)
Love Yourself: Her (2017)
You Never Walk Alone (2017)
Look, we all got through 2021 doing whatever we had to, and BTS is probably singlehandedly responsible for what remains of my sanity. Just go listen to their music and fall in love. What more could you possibly! want! from! a! listening! experience!



The Twilight Zone Podcast
Tom Elliot’s exquisite look at Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone just keeps getting better and better as he goes through the series. If you are a fan, this is the podcast to listen to. Jump on as Tom gets ready to look at the fifth and final season. {Website}

Presenting Alfred Hitchcock Presents podcast
This is my deep-dive look at the old Alfred Hitchcock Presents series, show by show, in chronological order. I’ve just wrapped up the first season; the perfect time for an unabashed self-plug! Check it out! {AADL}




Gen X, This Is Why

About a Girl


Dr. Death


Strombo Show
Sunday nights 8 - 11 on CBC radio. Great conversations, interesting live versions of songs and in general, a really tight format that keeps me up later than I should be on a Sunday. {Website}

La Force
Strombo Show is where I learned about La Force's song "You Amaze Me," which really pulled me in. Ariel Engle (known from Broken Social Scene) is a talented vocalist. {Website}

I suspect my aging brain just forgot about Babble—the name Tom Bailey and Alannah Currie started using after ending Thompson Twins—so it became new to me again this year. Always a fan of The Thompson Twins (y’know that great song at the end of Sixteen Candles?), thanks to the Strombo Show for playing a tune by Babble and reminding me that there is more to explore by Bailey and Currie. {YouTube}

Adam and the Ants
Thanks to my partner who is a vinyl hound, we’ve accumulated quite a few records and keep coming back to the very first one, Dirk Wears White Sox, as our favorite for now. {YouTube}



Pale Waves
One part The 1975, two parts The Cure, all parts earworm. This British band can make you shed a tear, boogie down, and sometimes both of those things at the same time. I am particular to the tracks "Television Romance," "There's a Honey," and "Noises." If you grew up on a steady diet of Avril Lavigne, check out their second album, Who Am I? (although their entire discography is worth a go). {Website}

I am not ashamed to say it: I am a 28 year old man on TikTok. And that is where I learned about PinkPantheress. With songs never longer than two minutes, Ms. Pantheress made the music that spoke to all my romantic blunders, joys, and indifferences in 2021. If you do one thing today, lie in bed and listen to "Just for Me" by PinkPantheress. And then listen to Giveon's cover of "Just for Me" on YouTube. And then listen to the rest of her music. It won't take you more than 30 minutes. {TikTok} {YouTube}

All my favorite music this year is British! Sugababes is a girl group that dominated British airwaves in the early and mid-2000s. Any artist that has the nerve to mash up Adina Howard's classic "Freak Like Me" with Gary Numan's "Are Friends Electric?" has my heart. I also fell in love with "Hole in the Head," "Overload," and the delightfully annoying "Push the Button." {YouTube}



Dungeons & Daddies podcast
This is an outrageously funny Dungeons and Dragons podcast about four regular dads who find themselves transported to the Forgotten Realms (a D&D world) while taking their kids to soccer, and have to use their new-found abilities to rescue their kids from mysterious foes. I can't count how many times I've laughed myself to tears while listening, but the cast is more than capable of making the more somber emotional beats hit perfectly as well. {Website}



"It Ain't Necessarily So"
(1959 film version)

Thanks to Wil Haygood's new book Colorization: One Hundred Years of Black Films in a White World, I was moved to seek out the 1959 film version of Porgy and Bess on YouTube. Despite the film's many flaws, I loved the story, the star power, and the chance to hear songs I've been familiar with for years finally placed in a proper narrative context. I’ve known and loved the beautiful, deathless ballad “Summertime” since childhood, originally via a psychedelic cover by Big Brother and the Holding Company that retained the delicate melody despite an onslaught of distortion and Janis Joplin's vocal pyrotechnics. Since then, I've never heard a version I didn't like. "I Got Plenty o' Nuttin" and "I Loves You Porgy" are other well-trodden popular standards from the show, and the way they express character and advance the story was illuminating and colored the songs in new shades for me.

But the song that really turned my head was "It Ain't Necessarily So," the signature tune for the conniving drug peddler Sportin' Life, which I had never heard before this recent viewing. Sammy Davis, Jr. performs it to a crowd of churchgoers at a picnic after taking issue with the local minister's sermon. It's a sly, heretical song that questions Biblical accuracy with an irresistible fractured rhyme scheme ("He made his home in/That fish's ab-do-men") and bouts of unhinged scatting. Sportin' Life's playful blasphemy clearly strikes a chord with his audience, as they all explode into a wild, uninhibited dance frenzy at the song's conclusion, much to the dismay of the vanquished preacher.

Turns out "It Ain't Necessarily So" is as well-covered as anything in the Porgy and Bess songbook, so I went on a spree, seeking out as many versions as I could find. There are plenty, essayed by artists as diverse as Aretha Franklin, Bronski Beat, Cher, Bing Crosby, even Tupac Shakur took a whack at it, using it as a hook to rap over for a 1991 track. As good as Sammy Davis Jr. is in the preceding clip, my favorite recitation is this leering 1965 performance by Cab Calloway on the Ed Sullivan show. Calloway portrayed Sportin' Life on Broadway in the 1950s and clearly relishes the chance to sink his teeth into the song again—he nearly swallows his backup chorus whole.



The Garden
Kiss My Superbowl Ring 

What can be said of one of my favorite albums of the last five years? I don’t know, but I recommend you listen and find out. It’s punk if it were played exclusively at a circus. {Spotify}

The Turning Wheel 
Spellling is one of the most unique musicians in the current pop world, and her latest album proves to be a pretty accessible starting point into her sound. Also, it’s just really really good. {Spotify}

Aye Nako
Silver Haze 

Despite disbanding in 2019, there is something I find so relevant about this album in particular. It doesn’t matter what year it is, Aye Nako’s music has a way of speaking to the inner disaffected high schooler in me. Or maybe the outer disaffected adult, I haven’t been out of high school that long. {Spotify}

Blvck Hippie
If You Feel Alone at Parties 

This is one of those albums that just feels raw, like an unfiltered look into Josh Shaw’s brain. This album is very messy, in the absolute best way possible. {Spotify}


We lost an amazing artist this year with SOPHIE’s passing. Everything SOPHIE has a hand in has been amazing, but I find myself revisiting this album the most. R.I.P SOPHIE. {Spotify}

Machine Girl
RePorpoised Phantasies 

Everything Machine Girl touches is gold, though this EP is “bouncier” than many other Machine Girl songs it’s still an instant classic. 2021 is (was) the year of hardcore techno (to me.) {Spotify}

До Свидания


Midori (ミドリ)
Aratamemashite, Hajimemashite, Midori Desu

I think Midori was a bit ahead of its time, and I can’t help but revisit this album every few years. I think we can, and should, all embrace punk jazz and retroactively give Midori their flowers. {Spotify}

Yves Tumor
The Asymptotical World EP 

Yves Tumor continues to be a bright spot in the experimental scene with their most recent EP. They’re a master of every genre they try, it’s extremely impressive. It’s also, once again, really really good. {Spotify}



I was in the top 1% of Blackpink’s Spotify listeners this year, surprising literally no one. This was another year where Blackpink didn’t release very much content, which made new content all the more exciting for me.  

The year started with The Show, an online livestream concert that featured some first-time live performances of songs off The Album, Blackpink’s first full-length album, released in 2020. My favorite performance was the new combination of "Love To Hate Me + You Never Know." I also really enjoyed Jennie’s remix of her solo song "Solo," Jisoo’s cover of "Habits (Stay High)" by Tove Lo, and the new arrangement of "Don’t Know What to Do."

In March Rose released her first solo record, R, a pop album that pulls from dance-pop, EDM, indie, and rock influences. The solo project features two singles: "On the Ground" and "Gone," both of which showcase her beautiful soaring vocals and emotionally resonant songwriting skills. "On the Ground" debuted and peaked at No. 1 on the Global 200 and quickly became the highest-charting song by a Korean female soloist in the U.S. Rose’s solo debut broke two Guinness World Records: one for most viewed YouTube music video in 24 hours by a solo K-pop artist (beating Psy’s "Gangnam Style") and one for being the first artist to reach No. 1 on a Billboard Global chart as both a soloist and as part of a group. I really enjoyed the "On the Ground" dance practice video as well. Rose also made waves when she was a guest on the show Sea of Hope, delivering gorgeous covers of songs such as "The Only Exception" by Paramore, "Lucky" by Jason Mraz, "If I Ain’t Got You" by Alicia Keys, "Read My Mind" by The Killers and "Slow Dancing in a Burning Room" by John Mayer, among others.

Lisa debuted as a soloist in September with her first solo album, Lalisa, a hip-hop record that serves to highlight Lisa’s confidence, charisma, rap flow, and impeccable dance skills. The solo project features two singles: "Lalisa" and "Money." The title track, "Lalisa," features rapid-fire rap flows and highlights and takes influence from Lisa’s Thai heritage in the dance break. Lisa’s humor pokes through occasionally in the music video—at one point she emerges dressed like a police detective and her backup dancers wear name tags that say “Polisa,” which I just find deeply funny. The song debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard Global 200, and with 73.6 million views, the music video for "Lalisa" became the most-viewed music video in the first 24 hours on YouTube by a solo artist, breaking a record previously held by Taylor Swift. Lisa’s solo debut also broke two Guinness World Records: snatching most viewed YouTube music video in 24 hours by a solo K-pop artist from Rose and earning another for most viewed YouTube music video by a solo artist in 24 hours. In addition to her solo project, Lisa also was featured in "SG," a DJ Snake song with Megan Thee Stallion and Ozuna. She also updated her personal YouTube channel, Lilifilm, with fun behind-the-scenes content surrounding the release of her solo project.

Jisoo spent most of the year filming Snowdrop, a new K-drama that's set to be released December 18th on Disney Plus. I’m beyond excited for it!

And what was Jennie up to this year? Not much, LOL. She hung out on the set of Squid Game and updated her YouTube channel. Hopefully we’ll see more of her next year, when Blackpink makes their long-awaited comeback.




California City
Miles north of Los Angeles, you'll find a network of mostly empty desert streets and cul-de-sacs where a city is supposed to be. Told in the style of a true-crime story, the secrets of a thinly populated and barely functioning town slowly unravel as this single-season podcast delves into a decades-long swindle. While the region suffers its way through catastrophic drought, massive amounts of water are wasted here, lost from a vast web of decaying pipes laid out to serve homes that were never built. A secretive company, perched in a tightly controlled ranch on top of a nearby hill, has been selling empty lots and promoting the town since its inception, but somehow almost nothing ever gets built. How exactly did all of this happen? Is California City the story of an idealist with a dream gone horribly wrong, or has there always been something far shadier happening? {LAist}

In Plain Sight: Lady Bird Johnson
Based on Lady Bird's audio diaries, this single-season podcast from ABC News offers a unique look into the life of the former First Lady. From her impromptu marriage in South Texas, all the way through her tumultuous years in the White House, host and best-selling author Julia Sweig paints a sympathetic and compelling look into Lady Bird's tumultuous time in the public eye. There are extraordinary moments here, when Lady Bird asserts herself in moments of political crisis, deftly pushing Lyndon through his worst moments of indecision and self-doubt. Listening to it all play out though, it seems like neither the president nor the first lady could ever quite mentally catch up to the changes happening around them. It's a genuine and delightful treat to hear Lady Bird narrating the major events of her own life. A complicated person living in a complicated era, there was a lot more to her than her crisp and demure voice would suggest, and this podcast makes for a really fun ride. {ABC Audio}


Radio Garden 
This one is a little hard to explain. It's a lot like Google Earth, but you can wander around finding whatever's playing on local radio stations all across the globe. It's maybe no surprise, but the dance-pop playing in Rome is pretty much exactly what you'd expect it to be. The same goes for mainstream music stations in places like Beirut, rural Moldova, or cities and towns all across northern India. It's all very fun to explore, but those particular stations will offer up few genuine surprises. If you dig around though, you might also find old-school bossa nova playing in Istanbul, or the latest American Top 40 playing in São Paulo and Rio, or '70s-era classic rock blasting through the airwaves over Paris. At its best, Radio Garden is this amazing little vantage point, where you can spin your way across the globe, listening to how amazingly interconnected we all are, and at the very same time, how unique, how gloriously complicated and wonderful every corner of the Earth is. {Radio Garden}



The Primals featuring vocals by Sam Carter from Architects

"Endwalker" is the main theme for the upcoming same-named expansion of the critically acclaimed MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing game) Final Fantasy XIV. The Footfalls version of the song is featured in the official trailer for the expansion and includes leitmotifs based on themes from the game’s previous expansions (A Realm Reborn, Heavensward, Stormblood, and Shadowbringers). The usage of these leitmotifs can be seen as a representation of the player’s journey through a story that has been developing for ten years since the game’s first launch in September 2010, its closure in November 2012, and its relaunch as Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn in August 2013. {YouTube}

The entirety of the soundtrack used in Final Fantasy XIV
I have absolutely fallen in love with the music used in Final Fantasy XIV. The soundtracks used in different cities and open-world environments suit the area that they’re used in, while the tracks used for battle sequences often reflect the personality of each boss. The composers of the game have done an excellent job at creating immersion through music that makes Final Fantasy XIV an enjoyable experience. 
A Realm Reborn OST {Spotify}
Heavensward OST {Spotify}
Stormblood OST {Spotify} https://open.spotify.com/album/7q7Zkp7Hvq0iEhrLCVTTbA?si=0613d9689b384f08
Shadowbringers OST {Spotify




TYRON was my introduction to Slowthai—born Tyron Frampton—and U.K. rap, and I only came across this album due to my boredom. What can I say though? This LP was by far my favorite release of 2021. TYRON consists of two discs relaying Slowthai’s feelings about his recent infamy as well as his mental state coming out of the pandemic. In my opinion, one disc outshines the other. The first leg of TYRON presents the more reckless and public side of Slowthai with some absolute bangers like “CANCELLED,” which is a great display of U.K. drill, as well as “MAZZA,” where Tyron and A$AP Rocky bounce some great verses off each other. While I enjoyed most of the songs in the first half, I could do without “VEX.” It just felt out of place. The first disc ends with “PLAY WITH FIRE,” which sees Slowthai entering his feels and sets the stage for the second half. The second CD highlights Tyron contemplating his fame and achievements and the factors that come with it. Some standout songs would be “push,” which features a great chorus from Deb Never, and “nhs”, whose “Rick without Morty” line cracks me up every time I hear it. That being said, every single track on the second half is great in their own regard, but don’t expect it to end on a positive note. Give it a listen! {Spotify}

James Blake
Friends That Break Your Heart

Friends That Break Your Heart is James Blake’s fifth studio album, which continues the British singer-songwriter's sad saga. The album focuses on the loss of friendships and relationships, and Blake’s steps to move forward despite it all. Honestly, I am not sure what drew me toward enjoying this album as much as I do, but sonically, Blake does such a great job making the album feel whole with its production as well as his vocal contributions—in almost every song, he really stretches out his notes with his voice. Blake’s incorporation of SZA into “Coming Back” with the beat change really amplifies SZA’s strengths. Additionally, “Frozen” sees JID drop some inventive bars about black America, while SwaVay creates this absurd story for the second verse. “Say What You Will” and its accompanying music video focuses on the idea that comparing your own accomplishments to others will never bring you happiness. The music video does a great job at visualizing this theme and features Billie Eilish's brother, Finneas, for some comedic effect. Finally, “Lost Angel Nights” tells a story about the end of a relationship with this amazing, soothing production. It’s like a lullaby for adults. Overall, the softness in the production makes this album a great night time listen. {AADL}

Olivia Rodrigo

I won’t lie. When I first listened to “Driver’s License,” I thought it was the cheesiest pop song of the year. I didn’t even plan on listening to the album when it came out. But when the time came, I loved the LP. No, it is not anything new in terms of pop music. No, the lyrics are nothing to write home about either, but damn is it fun. The whole project’s theme of a teenage break up with its incorporation of some rock influences makes the listen a guilty pleasure of mine. The ordering of the tracklist really makes it feel like she went through the five stages of grief. “Brutal” and “Good 4 U” and their high energy bring Rodrigo’s anger out with some punchy drums and ripping guitar chords. “Happier” and “Traitor” highlight her bitterness towards her ex. The vocal stacking in the chorus of “Favorite Crime” is just plain gorgeous. The only issue I had with the album had to be with the final song, “Hope Ur OK,” which Rodrigo speaks of past friends who suffered from discrimination for identifying with the LGBTQ+ community. While I enjoy the song alone and the theme is important, it just felt out of place in the album. Overall, Rodrigo’s vocal performance as well as ability to create a centrally themed album was very impressive especially as it was her first rodeo. {AADL}

Kanye West
"Keep My Spirit Alive (Pt. 2)"

This was the original version of the song that was released on Donda with the KayCyy on the chorus and my preferred rendition. The synthesizers that backed the vocal leads on this track paired really well with KayCyy’s raw vocal performance. {YouTube

"Open Mic\\Aquarius III"

At the time, No Pressure was said to be Logic’s final album at the time, and in my opinion, this song is the best on the record at wrapping up his career and future plans. The first leg, "Open Mic," works on the insecurities as well as the self confidence that followed Logic throughout his career. The beat change toward the "Aquarius" side of the track with the shift towards Logic reassuring himself really makes the track feel like a goodbye. {YouTube}



Whiskey Myers
Whiskey Myers

Does Whiskey Myers have a traditional country sound? Not exactly; but it is definitely country-adjacent! Rough vocals, heavy guitar riffs, and a Southern-rock soul define this band that does not fit neatly into a specific genre. Comparisons can be drawn between them and Led Zeppelin, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Hank Williams, Zach Brown Band, and Sturgill Simpson. Can't skip tracks include "Bury My Bones," "Gasoline," and "Glitter Ain't Gold." {AADL}

Miley Cyrus
Plastic Hearts

Plastic Hearts is a stark transition away from the country-inspired teen-pop Miley has mostly been known for. Instead, a distinct punk, synth-pop, and glam-rock-type sound dominate her seventh studio album. This development finally allowed Miley to achieve her full potential as a modern day rock star. Can't skip tracks include "WTF Do I Know," "Plastic Hearts," and "Angels Like You." {AADL}

Childish Gambino

Given his success as an actor, artist, and comedian, Donald Glover may be the most talented performer of our generation. His fourth studio album under his hip-hop stage name Childish Gambino only further solidifies that legacy. 3.15.20 gets back to his rap roots while also showcasing the jazz/ R&B sound that defined his Grammy award-winning previous album, Awaken, My Love! Glover has repeatedly that this is his last album as Childish Gambino, but a cryptic tweet posted in November of 2020 suggested that might not be the case. Can't skip tracks include "12.38," "42.26," and "53.49." {Wikipedia

Pardon My Take podcast
If you are looking for a serious podcast that provides thorough, in-depth sports analysis this is not it. Instead, Dan "Big Cat" Katz and "PFT Commenter" discuss all things sports while shoving as many jokes as possible into roughly 90 minutes. Pardon My Take has almost single-handedly catapulted Barstool Sports into relevance. After listening to one episode it is pretty easy to see why: Big Cat and PFT have created a show that is completely unique from anything else in the American sports media today. 



With one toddler and one late teenager in the house, I have found myself listening to media rather than reading it. After all, you can listen to podcasts while you do all of the endless chores.

Surviving Sister Wives podcast
Sister Wives Secrets podcast

While I have been watching Sister Wives for years, this year I found the podcasts Surviving Sister Wives and Sister Wives Secrets. Both invite me deeper into the world of this polygamous family. Sometimes the hosts are pretty hard on the Brown family, but the Sister Wives rabbit hole is one that I will burrow into at any opportunity. I will neither confirm nor deny starting to watch Sister Wives from the very beginning.

Stuff Mom Never Told podcast
Unladylike podcast

Years ago, I was an active follower of the Stuff Mom Never Told You podcast. I enjoyed the rapport between hosts Cristen Conger and Caroline Ervin. This year I discovered their other podcast, Unladylike, and look forward to listening to the entirety of the podcast. To my delight, there are over 100 episodes waiting for my eager ears.

Punk Frockers podcast
Sewing Out Loud podcast
Stitch Please podcast

Punk Frockers is a sewing podcast that I can't get enough of. Their aim is to create a community around sewing, including fun challenges. This podcast has also changed the way that I think about access to sewing. As a straight-sized sewist, it had never occurred to me that in a hobby that can be so very much about customization and individuality, that there is a serious limit to the patterns available to so many larger bodies. This shift in my thinking has made me think about other experiences that are not accessible to people beyond a certain size; I am grateful to this podcast for identifying one of my blind spots. Another sewing podcast I've been enjoying is Sewing Out Loud, where a Zede and Mallory, a mother and daughter pair, cover all sorts of technical topics in sewing and sewing machines broken down for a casual-ish sewist. Stitch Please, is the official podcast of Black Women Stitch, "the sewing group where Black lives matter." This podcast centers Black women, girls and femmes in sewing and has exposed me to many voices I wouldn't have otherwise experienced. 

Maintenance Phase podcast
You're Wrong About podcast
A smart colleague told me about the Maintenance Phase podcast where hosts Michael Hobbes and Aubrey Gordon do a deep dive into weight loss and wellness culture. If you like having things that you once accepted as fact debunked, maybe skip this one. From the same wise source, I learned about the You're Wrong About podcast. Here, Sarah Marshall and until very recently Michael Hobbes dive into a person or event that has been "miscast in public imagination." Let's just say that I spend some time thinking about both Tonya Harding and the O.J. Simpson trial more than I had in quite some time.



Michigan Rattlers
That Kind of Life
I've been obsessed with this Petsoky, Michigan quartet's previous releases, but the eight songs on this album are the group's finest collection of compositions to date. Recommended if you like the small-town story-songs of Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, and Counting Crows. {YouTube Music}

The first album by Sweden's kings and queens of danceable pop in 40 years is just as accomplished and emotional as the quartet's previous LP, 1981's Visitors. (Have you ever truly listened to ABBA's lyrics? Dark disco!) {AADL}

Wet Leg
Funny, sexy indiepop—three words rarely in the same sentence. British duo Wet Leg sing witty lyrics in a deadpan drawl over minimalist, linear, wiry guitars that evoke post-punk new wave. Melody rules amid all the nonchalance 'tude on the four singles I've heard so far, and I'm exited for the full-length due in April 2022. Until then, check out the band's all-timer debut tune, "Chaise Longue." 

Local music
Every week since September 2020, I've published a post called Friday Five that highlights music from Washtenaw County-associated artists and labels—and not once have I struggled to find good content. Here are some local 2021-ish albums that stood out to me:
Lily Talmers, Remember Me As Holy {Pulp}
Idle Ray, Idle Ray {Bandcamp}
Same Eyes, Parties to End {Pulp}
Static, Toothpaste and Pills: Demos and Live 1978-1981 {Bandcamp}
MEMCO mixes {Soundcloud}
Mark Kirschenmann, Cybersonic Outreach {Bandcamp}
Laurel Premo, Golden Loam {Bandcamp}
Kool Ade Kam, Strictly for My Homies {Pulp}
London Beck, The Black Satin Sessions {Bandcamp}
Raw Honey, Riverbed {Bandcamp}
Dr. Pete Larson and his Cytotoxic Nyatiti Band, Damballah {Bandcamp}
Bill Van Loo, Heavyweight Trouble {Bandcamp}
Athletic Mic League, Playground Legends Vol. 1 {Bandcamp}
Weekend Hours, When You're Here {Bandcamp}
Cashmere Washington, The Shape of Things to Come {Pulp}
Mirror Monster, Pretty Things Made With All Our Love {Pulp}
Kenyatta Rashon, The Art of Keeping It Real {Pulp}
Kawsaki, Designing the Future {Pulp}