NBHAP’s 50 Best Albums Of 2021 ||| NBHAP’s 50 Best Songs Of 2021

Anna Leone – ‘I’ve Felt All These Things’

It would be a shame not to at least mention Anna Leone’s debut LP I’ve Felt All These Things, which arrived on 08th October, as she has certainly deserved more attention for crafting such an intimate and profound collection of songs. Following her well-acclaimed 2018 EP Wandered Away, her debut sees the Swedish singer-songwriter step on a creative odyssey packed with emotional intensity and yet not shying away from addressing bigger existential questions. I’ve Felt All These Things is an intimate account of an artist’s attempt to cope with depression and angst, leading the way to brighter perspectives and solemn hymns of hope and confidence.

Much dwelling in the footsteps of grand atmospheric folk-pop forerunners like Daughter, Anna Leone’s debut knows how to create a mood, beginning with the swelling and ambient I’ve Waited. The core of her songs though is rooted in tender acoustic guitar arrangements, as Once, Still I Wait or Do You Ever impressively demonstrate. While her writing reaches a profound level of lyrical craft, the real achievement of I’ve Felt All These Things lies in setting up a fragile building of vulnerability and sentiment that remains intact, and most of all, is not repetitive, held together by a sound musical ground. In all its reflection and spotlight on loneliness and mental health, Leone’s ten tracks appear to represent a quite fitting soundtrack and the perfect medicine for the uncertain times we all live in. (Andreas Peters)

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Barkóczi Noémi – ‘Dolgom Volt’

From the Hungarian indie music scene comes a songwriter with witty observational lyrics and intimate indie rock melodies. Barkóczi Noémi released her second record Dolgom Volt earlier this year. Between stripped back singer songwriting tracks that sound like they were bred in the confinement of the singer’s room during the lockdown and groovier alternative rock efforts, the album lives off the lyrical beauty of the singer’s Hungarian lyrics. On the title track she dives into the struggles of dealing with the overload of the modern human condition. Wasting time, arriving late, leaving calls unanswered, and making up excuses are things most can relate to. She is building a world that has long collapsed, she sings. Nagyvillanyok plays with the notion of wanting to be seen. The singer wonders what might happen is she steps into the light from her seat in the last row of the cinema. Dolgom Volt is certainly a step towards the stage but still a shy one at that. (Liv Toerkell)

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Bnny – ‘Everything’

Arrived just in time for an euphoric summer of 2021 the debut album of Bnny is the sort of warm lush summer indie rock soundtrack you turn to when having a blast with your friends, find new love, overcoming heartbreak and head for adventures. Led by Jess Viscius and her twin sister Alexa the Chicago-based group delivers a sweet first full-length that bewitches the listener with warm nostalgia, sensual melancholy and that smooth easy-going vibe I also enjoyed from bands like Alvvays, Seapony, Yuck and Real Estate. Everything comes with a heavy dose of emotional honesty and intimacy that partly makes it sound as if Viscius is humming these tunes directly into your ear. It’s great storytelling, packed in a cohesive listening experience that captivates the listener from start to finish. On Everything Bnny deliver the perfect record for those special warm summer days and nights, carried by minimalism and great songwriting and it’s an album that grows with every listening experience. (Norman Fleischer)

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Crumb – ‘Ice Melt’

Somehow the lush and trippy indie rock of Crumb managed to fly under my personal radar over the past years, despite the critically acclaim their 2019 debut Jinx received. Ice Melt underlines that little hype in the indie scene as it presents the group as fascinating project that’s stitched together from various locations, inspirations, experiences, and relationships. In a wider sense you could label the group as dream pop but that might only limit the possibilities of this project. Floating tracks like BNR meet darker tunes like L.A. while Gone and Trophy show a more delicate side of the group. Singer Lila Ramani carries the twisted sound. There’s also a krautrocking undertone to the record but quite in a subtle way. Ice Melt deals with themes of disconnection and dislocation, of changing shape and experiencing new states of being, resulting in an absorbing atmosphere between the light and the dark and it’s obviously not too late to jump on the Crumb bandwagon, even after two records. I can tell that from experience. (Norman Fleischer)

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Emma Ruth Rundle – ‘Engine Of Hell’

It’s been overdue for Emma Ruth Rundle to display her bleak intimacy in a radically reduced fashion. We know her rough edges already from magnificent albums like Marked for Death, topped by her latest expeditions into Sludge-territory with Thou on last year’s May Our Chambers Be Full. The thing is that Rundle’s music is and always was lonesome at its core. Said loneliness has found its form in Engine of Hell now, or, as Rundle puts it in the outstanding The Company: “So loud that the company I keep is just mine”. And that company, as we all know, is “the center of my troubles” because nothing is more torturous as the white noise within our heads. It is as intimate as we possibly ever heard Rundle before as we are left alone with merely her haunting voice, guitar and piano throughout the 40 minutes. It’s not something to be devoured lightly of course. But believe me, you’ll quickly be haunted by its subtle hooks and bleak insights. Somewhere between “No need to watch the weather as my winter never ends” and the twisted optimism of “My whole life, some dark night, is so much brighter now without you”. (Henning Grabow)

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Grandmas House – ‘Grandmas House’

All-female, queer punk trio Grandmas House from Bristol (not to be confused with Leeds-based Amber Strawbridge’s indie rock project Bored at My Grandmas House) formed in late 2018 and started to release several singles, including their raw debut single Devil’s Advocate and the social (media) anxiety-fuelled Always Happy. They’ve made waves in their hometown’s music scene, played with bands like Gender Roles, Frankie Cosmos and fellow Bristolians Idles and this year’s October saw the release of their first EP.

During just eleven minutes, Grandmas House combine energy, message and fun in a way that is hard to resist. The anti-establishment Golden is followed by Girl, an empowering and upbeat song about falling in love and coming out. Then, the mocking impersonation of an arrogant man for Never Out of Luck crashes into desperation on the hangover hymn Feed Me before the EP ends with the gloomy mundanity of BOGOF offers captured by Pasty. If you have overlooked this powerful release, you should listen to it now (and on maximum volume). And I close with a quote of Cassie Ramone (Vivian Girls, The Babies): ‘I think three women making music is like witchcraft. It’s beautiful.’ (Jessi Schmitte)

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Husky Gawenda – ‘Bedroom Ice Age’

We certainly are in a cycle of lockdown albums and maybe this past year has made that fact even more clear, though not every new release in the past months has urgently addressed the experience of not being able to tour, mingle among one’s fellows and follow the social routines which we all have learned to value in an increased sense. Husky Gawenda though, lead singer and creative force behind his beloved band Husky however has rooted for putting the pandemic circumstances straight to display. Bedroom Ice Age is the sinister and yet very fitting title for his first solo recording. 

More located in the acoustic fundaments of his band’s musical craft, these ten songs are pieces of profound imagination and tender composition, written in the spirit “of lo-fi / DIY heroes like Elliot Smith or Sufjan Stevens”, Husky admits. Holed up at home with his tape machine, a microphone and a room full of instruments, Bedroom Ice Age is the result of a soul-searching adventure to find meaning amidst the circumstances of solitary confinement. From Nailbiter, a tune about “a hopeless romantic addicted to the thrill of new love”, up to the final and wonderfully mellow Stay Safe, which circles around the emotion of longing and desire, the ten pieces are more stripped back, more untouched and one may say that they are even more devoted than ever before. (Andreas Peters)

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Lael Neale – ‘Acquainted With Night’

I can’t remember how exactly I came across Acquainted With Night, US singer-songwriter Lael Neale’s new album, but this discovering this soft, soulful record felt like coming into contact with a whispered secret. Opener Blue Vein very much sets the tone – simple, stripped-back songs, but ones lit up with a sparkling glow by the strength of Neale’s songwriting and her stirring vocals, and her ability to slowly let a story unfurl itself. The songs range from frostily pretty to elegant, dancing like candlelight’s shadow on a wall, with For No One For Now a stunning highpoint at the heart of the album. It’s not a record with any fireworks, but it doesn’t need them – instead, it’s an uplifting, heartaching little collection of songs that gets better with every listen. (Austin Maloney)

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L’impératrice – ‘Tako Tsubo’

The second record by the French six-piece L’impératrice is called Tako Tsubo and deals with emotions. Named after the Japanese word for the broken-heart syndrome, it explores an excess of emotion – happy and sad – on each of the tracks. Musically, the band situates itself firmly in the nu-disco and funk territory creating one groovy song after another. Basslines come together with silky synths and the smooth French vocals by lead singer Flore Benguigui on Anomalie Bleue for example. With elements of 90s West Coast Hip Hop, mellow RnB, and unapologetically retro disco vibes, Tako Tsubo is a record that stirs emotions as well as feet. The danceable Fou is a testimony to the musical interplay that L’impératrice do so well. Its funky groove and the tongue in cheeky lyrics about leaving behind the known order because things are easier when you go crazy (“tout est plus facile, quand on devient fou“), spark musical euphoria. Tako Tsubo is French disco between retro and contemporary and a record so groovy and well orchestrated, that it goes straight to the heart. (Liv Toerkell)

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Lúisa – ‘New Woman’

Actually, German singer-songwriter Lùisa is no newcomer in the music world. She already released two albums before, but didn’t get the attention she deserved. With her third record New Woman the young lady finally made the breakthrough and even managed it to get onto our top 50 track list of 2021. New Woman is an album full of great pop melodies paired with Lùisa‘s strong and unique voice. Her music is full of power and self-determination. The 11 songs of New Woman tell the story about a young woman who finally found her own voice in a men dominated world. With her new album, Lùisa proves that you shouldn’t give up too early, although you sometimes need to fight for your dreams and goals. Everybody who loves strong voices and beautiful pop anthems should give her music a try! (Miriam Wallbaum)

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Makthaverskan – ‘För Allting’

On album number four, it’s all change for Gothenburg’s post-punks Makthaverskan – not only have they given this record a title (beyond their previous I,II, III naming scheme), and they’ve even taken the unprecedented step of treating themselves to a little colour on the album cover. With an outside producer on board (Hannes Ferm of HOLY), the band who made a significant contribution to sculpting the signature sound of their hometown might have felt it was time for some sonic spring cleaning, to freshen up and make sure their creativity wasn’t growing any cobwebs. They certainly sound like a band with a new lease of life on För Allting. There’s nothing earth-shakingly dramatic about the change – single This Time is a stellar Makthaverskan classic – but they spread their wings across the album, with instrumentals (-) and (–) helping to build a sense of atmosphere that flows through the record. They swing through a little jangle-pop on Closer and Maktologen, and remind us that they’ve still got the knack for the epic and apocalyptic on the skyscraping title track. All in all, four albums in and they sound better than ever – there’s not a lot of bands around who can say that. (Austin Maloney)

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Robert Levon Been – ‘Original Songs From The Card Counter’

2021 marks the 20th anniversary of the release of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s self-titled first album. Meanwhile, Robert Levon Been – the band’s bassist/multi-instrumentalist and founding member – has come full circle in his creative work by composing a score and original songs for the film The Card Counter written and directed by Paul Schrader. The latter, being a combination of fully realized songs, song fragments and sound design. In 2013, BRMC scored Jeff Baena’s dark horror-comedy, Life After Beth. However, this was not the first time that Levon Been had been working in the realm of film music. His late father – Michael Been of The Call – had worked on the soundtrack to Paul Schrader’s 1992 film The Light Sleeper – with additional help and creative input from his teenage son Robert who would soon start focusing on rock’n’roll music instead. A notch in his creative journey that was rekindled when Schrader reached out to Levon Been about writing the closing song for The Card Counter without giving him any context for the rest of the film.

What started out as a 1-track-commissioned work soon turned into a much more eclectic and bigger project with Levon Been providing comprehensive ideas for the score as well as releasing the Original Songs From the Card Counter. Following in his father’s footsteps by working with Paul Schrader, the haunting, dark and often mysterious soundscape of these original songs express Levon Been’s unobtrusive approach throughout the album. A creative piece of work that might have not happened to this extent without the pandemic’s time frame that allowed the BRMC songwriter to carefully create “an album that would show people behind the curtain, show them the journey, not just the destination“ as he recently stated in an interview. Detached from any form of superficiality, the songs radiate a longing that is deeply embedded in the noticeable contrast of gloominess and warmth that is drifting through songs like Arise Sun and Mercy of Man. As a whole, the album is a body of work that is extremely appealing to explore – even without the context of the film. (Annett Bonkowski)

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