2021 was book-ended by some amazing ambient albums. From Hotel Neon and Warmth back at the start of the year to some fabulous compilations and artist albums by familiar faces at the tail end. During the summer we were all let out to play again, so the ambient blanket was cast side in favour of something slightly more ‘upbeat’. As always, another stellar year. Expensive though, as all the lockdown albums came out this year. All ultimately worth it. Next year, I’ll reduce my vinyl budget significantly.
My 2021 album list. Unlike last years aberration where there was a Top 11, this year I went for a dozen.
12. Various Artists – Pop Ambient 2021. I’ve been buying this series since the early noughties. The last couple of years were a little weaker but this years edition is a return to form. The rota this year included Blank Gloss who put out the wonderful Melt in 2021. The vinyl is mixed unusually.
11. Nils Frahm – Old Friends, New Friends. 3 vinyl releases in 2021. Tripping with Nils Frahm, Graz then this. It might be a compilation of some old, some new but it’s my favourite release of his this year. Nils continues to cost me a fortune.
10. Stray Theories – This Light. A gorgeous lush album again. I always find it odd it sits in the ‘Ambient Post-Rock’ genre in some streaming platforms. To me it’s another warm blanket. I’ve followed his releases for a number of years. Hugely underrated guy is Micah.
9. James – All the Colours Of You. Another year, another pop masterpiece from James. Still one of my favourite bands even after countless studios albums. Watched them perform much of the album at the Isle of Wight festival and it cemented how good the album was in my mind. It was released the day after my 50th birthday. It’ll remind me of that time.
8. Various Artists – @0. A Ninja Tune compilation that arrived late in the year without much fanfare. A beautiful album supported by a mixed version by Mixmaster Morris and Coldcut. Proceeds from the album going to mens mental health charities. Lots of great artists, lots of great tunes and a great vinyl package. Autumn Leaves, however, makes yet another appearance on the mix version (not on the vinyl 👍).
7. Bobby Gillespie & Jehnny Beth – Utopian Ashes. I buy all Primal Scream releases, so this was a given. It’s a breakup album and all the stages associated with that. An album I played a lot over the summer months. Includes the wonderful Remember We Were Lovers.
6. A Winged Victory for the Sullen – Invisible Cities. I’m listening to this as I write. While it might not scale the heights of Atomos (we may never hear the likes again) it is nevertheless a great standalone album. It was the score to a multimedia production which I remember reading about at the time. I was delighted when it got a full release of its own.
5. Max Richter – Voices 2. This might have been leftovers from the Voices project but it is equally as good an album. If anything, it is a more relaxed experience, less epic in parts and importantly for me, voiceless. I read Max Richter said it provides room to breathe, it does.
4. Sasha – Luzoscura. It has been great watching this project develop. Sasha curated a Spotify playlist during lockdown. There were 4 x 2 hour mixes on OpenLab radio. 2 shows at the Alexandra Palace once lockdown eased and this album in May. A beautiful ambient and breakbeat DJ mix at the time the world was opening up again.
3. Jon Hopkins – Music For Psychedelic Therapy. Probably the album I’ve listen to more than any other this year. Impressive given it only got a release in October. The album I always hoped Jon Hopkins would make. He does ambient very well indeed.
2. Cheval Sombre – Days go By. The 2nd of his 2 full album releases in 2021 arriving late May. I’ve listened to this a lot over the summer months. Very much in the same vain as….
1. Cheval Sombre – Time Waits For No One. Sounding more Sonic Boom than Sonic Boom. A friend bought me this thinking I’d like it. He was right. I ended up getting Days Go By as well. My favourite musical discovery in 2021 and also my favourite album. Sorry it took so long to get onboard.
Notable mentions go to Hotel Neon, Warmth, The Specials, The Coral, Mogwai, Robert Plant & Alison Krauss, Admiral Fallow, Blank Gloss and Sonic Boom for his remix album ‘Almost Nothing Is Never Enough’. Incidentally, the only gig I went to in 2021.
Until next year.