"Nostalgia is the suffering caused by an unappeased yearning to return." Milan Kundera - Ignorance

Although a little late, here is the music that soundtracked 2021 for me and how it kept me surprised.

Ancient Dreams in a Modern Land – Marina

I always love serendipitous discoveries. Bored one day, I created a set of arbitrary rules on Spotify to decide what I would listen to. It was something like clicking on the fifth artist in the ‘Fans Also Liked’ three times. Doing this, I came upon Muna’s remix of Marina’s track Man’s World and I went from there.

I feel like this album has a bit of everything. There are aspects of slick pop production, balanced with a mix of punk, all done with a touch of melodrama. Overall, it is shouty without actually shouting. As Damian Morris explains:

Anti-misogyny manifesto pop could easily become clumsy and overwrought, but the joy Marina invests into her mannered, quasi-operatic delivery makes sedition sound seductive.

Sixty Summers – Julia Stone

It is interesting how there are some artists that you overlook because you presume you already know what they are about only to discover a whole other side that you were unaware of. In 2020 it was Sufjan Stevens, while in 2021 it was Julia Stone.

It is easy to imagine another version of Sixty Summers at the hand of somebody like Stuart Price. Although it always threatens, it is always held back. Whether it be the tempo or the particular mix. Overall, I really liked the delicate and sparse nature of this album. In part this is a product of Stone’s voice, but I also feel it is result of Thomas Bartlett and Annie Clark production.

Deep States – TFS

There is a quote from Peter Goldsworthy that I come back to again and again, “cartoon descriptions, how else to describe a cartoon world.” I think that there is something to be said about TFS being the soundtrack for the current crisis. As Gareth Liddiard suggests, maybe the world has just caught up with a perspective they have been plying for years.

“With TFS, I think the world just caught up to our thing. We’ve been plying our trade for years and I think the world has finally become as anxious and neurotic as we’ve always sounded,” says Liddiard.

I must admit, there are times when I listen to TFS and I just feel kind of stupid for not following all the references littered within the music. Maybe that it how it is meant to be, not sure. Overall though there is something compelling about it that just keeps me there. There are moments where the clouds clear and clarity shines through, such as in GAFF.

I’ll take the wages of sin over the minimum wage I’d blow myself up too, man, it’s been one of them days But I’m not a kamikaze, I don’t wanna die a martyr I’m just looking for a latte and a fucking phone charger

Divine Intervention – Client Liaison

I remember seeing Client Liaison perform for the first time for ABC’s New Years Eve This Night is Yours concert. One cannot help be transfixed. Are they for real? I guess artifice comes in many shapes and sizes.

Divine Intervention is an album in search of higher power. There is something about their slick sound that leaves me both full and yet wanting more. In some ways, just as Roger and Brian Eno’s album felt like the perfect album for the start of the pandemic and the world wide lockdown, Divine Intervention seems the right album to shake out the blues and get out on the dancefloor again and the new normal, even if that dancefloor still may be alone in a kitchen with headphones.

Only the Shit You Love – Damian Cowell’s Disco Machine

Damian Cowell has a knack of taking a morsel of an idea to its nth degree. In the age where bands release a series of singles prior to the album launch, Cowell took this a step further releasing his who album on a weekly basis as a YouTube series, until finally release the album as a whole.

Only the Shit You Love is a snapshot of the modern world.

The modern world, product placement, continuous improvement, the culture of engagement, the diminution of language, the moronisation of television, imposter syndrome, subjectivity, my career demise, the heard instinct, popularism, the death of reason, nostalgia, love, lose, tolerance and friendship.

As always, it contains Cowell’s usual witty observations on the world. However, one of the changes to the first two Disco Machine albums was exploration of different dynamics and tempos. The usual upbeat tracks are still present, but they are contrasted by a number of slower numbers. Overall, coupled with a weekly podcast, this album was the perfect ailment for what felt like a perpetual lock-down.


One of the things that music offered me in 2021 was a sense of surprise. With so much of life in lockdown somewhat mundane, these albums each in their own was offered something new, unexpected and seemingly novel.

So what about you? What albums soundtracked your 2021? Were there any themes that tied things together? As always, comments welcome.


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Music of 2021 in Review, or the Year of Serendipity and Surprise by Aaron Davis is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

One thought on “Music of 2021 in Review, or the Year of Serendipity and Surprise

  1. “Nostalgia is the opium of the age” according to Billy Bragg, and I tend to agree. If Damian Cowell hadn’t done all those damn videos for VIT I might take him more (or is it less?) seriously. Thanks for the list, hat tip to the person who put you on to TFS!


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