Best Albums of 2021, Part 3

7. José González, Local Valley

Lately, I’ve been into quieter, calmer sounds than usual; cue my age or maybe just a craving for serenity in these volatile times. González doesn’t record all that often, so his first studio album in six years is indeed a balm. He occasionally refreshes his acoustic palette, inserting a polite, thumping beat into “Swing” and veering closer than ever to jam-band territory on “Tjomme”. However, I’m still enamored with how much presence and feeling of divine inspiration he attains from the spare, guitar-and-voice settings dominating this lovely set, especially in the back-to-back awe of “The Void” and “Horizons” which glisten like mirror images of each other.

Standout track: “Visions”

6. Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders & The London Symphony Orchestra, Promises

The year’s least likely event album is an instrumental suite composed by a young British electronic musician, augmented by the London Symphony Orchestra and made transcendent by 80-year-old jazz saxophonist Sanders—the first major release with his name on it in two decades. Built mostly around a recurring melodic flourish and divided into nine “movements”, it’s most powerful when heard in its 46-minute entirety. Like the two halves of In A Silent Way or four parts of A Love Supreme, play it on an endless loop and listen for new motifs and hidden treasures to reveal themselves each cycle through.

Standout track: All of them.

5. Saint Etienne, I’ve Been Trying To Tell You

Renowned for their pop acumen (any of their singles collections are wall-to-wall bops), there’s always been another side to this British trio—an experimental streak that occasionally surfaces in instrumental album tracks, B-sides and fan club releases. Their tenth studio album is the first to give itself entirely over to this side, eschewing hooks for sample-heavy tone poems built out of cuts from such fin de siècle UK artists as Samantha Mumba, Lighthouse Family and The Lightning Seeds. Although it could use more Sarah Cracknell (anything could, really), whose sighs and spoken-word interludes serve as a spectral presence, this is the most forward-looking music they’ve recorded in some time.

Standout track: “Penlop”

4. The Weather Station, Ignorance

Previously unfamiliar with Tamara Lindeman’s long-running music project, Spotify kept recommending various tracks from this, her breakthrough LP until I broke down and listened to the entire thing on a warm, early Autumn afternoon walk. While the streamer’s suggestions don’t always hit the mark, this one did, bringing to mind many female singer/songwriters I love while remaining its own thing (vocally, Lindeman’s closest to Vienna Teng, who has had little output as of late.) Ecology-minded without the preachiness (titles include “Tried To Tell You”, “Parking Lot” and “Subdivisions”), catchy without ever seeming obvious, it’s both full of simple pleasures and quietly (that word again!) revelatory.

Standout track: “Parking Lot”

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