Last Word Features: Best overlooked albums of 2021
Last Word Features
I’m sure I listened to more than a thousand albums in 2021 — nothing unusual there. But that still left probably 10 times that number of releases that I passed over. So I don’t suggest that this year’s Best Overlooked Albums column represents any definitive ranking of 2021 albums that deserved far more attention than they received. This column simply ranks my favorite 20 underappreciated albums for 2021.
The list reflects my tastes — power pop, indie rock, blues, Americana, soul and plain old rock ’n’ roll are in my wheelhouse, while I’m not big on hip-hop/rap/R&B, electronic/techno, jazz, metal and what passes for top 40 pop these days. I’m sure I missed out on some gems this year. In any event, there are lots of stellar albums on this list. And while they were largely ignored by radio and the major media outlets, they’ll be on my playlist for years to come.
1. Oscar Lang: “Chew The Scenery” — This debut full-length album is pretty remarkable, first and foremost for the way Lang frequently combines what should be opposing forces — elegant melodies and truly edgy pop-rock. Standout songs “I Could Swear,” “21st Century Hobby” and “Quarter Past Nine” provide prime examples of this synergy. But “Chew The Scenery” is nothing if not diverse, running the gamut from catchy rockers to piano-centric balladry. Put it all together and “Chew The Scenery” stands up to any album I heard in 2021, including the higher profile Grammy-bound albums from Jon Batiste and Adele. Not bad for a debut album.
2. Made Violent: “Wannabe” — Drawing on Brit-pop, glam, Strokes-ish alt-rock and punk, Made Violent unleash hooky slam-bang rockers on “Touch,” “Baby Gold” and “Don’t Wanna Know,” while “Two Tone Hair” and “Wasted Days” add a bit of jangle to the equation. Forget the album title, Made Violent aren’t wannabes. They’re the real deal.
3. Gaelle Buswel: “Your Journey” — This album shows Buswel is a bluesy rock powerhouse (think Samantha Fish or Melissa Etheridge) with a potent voice and the songwriting chops that find her equally capable of rocking out or settling into effective balladry. It’s still early in Buswel’s journey, but she sounds like she’s going places.
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4. Reigning Sound: “A Little More Time With Reigning Sound” — Frontman Greg Cartwright reunited with the early lineup of Reigning Sound for this album. It’s a smashing return that mixes organ-laced rockers like “Make It Up” and “Let’s Do It Again” and more relaxed fare such as “On and On” and “I’ll Be Your Man.” You’ll want to spend plenty of time with this album.
5. Mothboxer: “On the Flipside” — Mothboxer’s 2020 album “Accelerator” topped my best overlooked albums list last year. “On the Flipside” is nearly as good. It rocks a bit harder than “Accelerator,” while poppier tunes like “Tip of My Tongue,” “Be Out Here Forever” and “On Repeat” really spotlight songwriter Dave Ody’s talent for creating disarming melodies and chord changes.
6. Latvian Radio: “Phooey” — Patric Westoo (he is Latvian Radio) favors crisp and catchy guitar pop songs — nothing unusual there. But most other bands don’t write songs as tuneful as “Make Believe,” “Sliding Down a Ladder” and “Bloody Mary Me Marie,” or nearly all of the other eight songs on “Phooey.”
7. The John Sally Ride: “Now Is Not A Great Time” — Band members John Dunbar, Sal Nunziato and Sal Maida have quite the wide power-pop vocabulary. They’re equally effective lighter, acoustic-laced tunes (“You Let Her Break Your Heart Again” and the title song), crunchy rockers (“Far From Eaten Out” and “Putting It Off”) and songs that fall in between. This album marks a great time to get to know the John Sally Ride.
8. Randolph’s Leap: “Spirit Level” — Adam Ross and his band project, Randolph’s Leap, bring a breezy pop sound to “Spirit Level.” But this isn’t disposable pop. The songs are lyrically smart and musically varied, with creative instrumental touches (often supplied by horns or keyboards) that elevate the songs.
9. Livingmore: “Take Me” — This sophomore effort finds Livingmore deftly walking a fine line between classic and modern alt-rock/pop, consistently delivering effervescent hooks (as well as some ear-catching guitar solos and licks) throughout the album.
10. The Boys With The Perpetual Nervousness: “Songs From Another Life” — On their second album, the duo of Gonzalo Marcos and Andrew Taylor have picked up the tempos, punched up the guitars — just a bit — without losing any of the impeccable pop melody or jangle that characterized their 2019 debut, “Dead Calm.”
And now, for some honorable mentions: Lydia Luce: “Dark River” (lush and lovely pop); Kiwi Jr.: “Cooler Returns” (kinetic, brainy rock-pop); Quivers: “Golden Doubt” (highly melodic, easy-going pop); Radio Days: “Rave On!” (tuneful, crisp rocking pop); Jessie Lee & The Alchemists: “Let It Shine” (bluesy rock with grit and big vocals); The Suitcase Junket: “The End is New” (Americana with appealing grit and variety); Ryan Allen: “What A Rip” (catchy pop with a garage rock accent); Nova Hawks: “Redemption” (potent blues-accented rock); Beth Lee: “Waiting On You Tonight” (solid set of rootsy rock, country and pop with vintage charm) and Waltzer: “Time Traveler” (garage rock, pop with touches of soul).