Favourite music of 2021

Most appreciated shorts:

12. Unknown T feat. Potter Payper (prod. Sean Murdz) - Trenches

I don't have the stomach to really enjoy UK drill, much of which is so relentlessly bleak it becomes a bit monotonous (not to mention terrifying, although that's kind of the point). Grime MCs can be similarly heavy-going, but they are also frequently funny and silly, and drill evaporates all that levity away. That said, Unknown T operates at the poppier end of the drill spectrum, and 'Trenches' is basically a backward-looking straight-up rap track that appeals far more to my sensibilities. It's elevated particularly by a star-making performance by Potter Payper, providing a welcome counterpoint to T's flow by rapping with a booming voice and at a leisurely pace, showing that speed isn't always necessary to maintain energy.

11. Nippa (prod. TobiAitch) - Situation

Imagine 8701-era Usher over a Zaytoven beat, with signifiers straight out of north London. The innovation here is that while this sounds like the silkiest R&B from ages past, lyrically the laydeez are a peripheral concern. Instead Nippa is focused on whether his people will back him up if there's danger on the way. He's a seducer, but he's not after love, he's after recruits. For me, the crooning adds a frisson of homoeroticism to proceedings that makes the track even more special.

10. 5ever - 'Champagne'

This feels like three lockdowns worth of pent up energy released in one minute-and-a-half burst of the sugariest pop punk since Fall Out Boy sat under a cork tree. 5ever write about the years after you're done with school where you're not quite sure when your life will actually start – a situation made all the more relatable by our collective pandemic experience. But the band don't sound indecisive or adrift here, leaping straight into the chorus in a bid to get you singing along as quickly as possible. 'Champagne' recognises how difficult it can be to make an effort when the world is in stasis, and then it gives you a kick up the backside.

9. Facta - 'FM Gamma'

A rainbow road of vibrant melody brushed over a sturdy but understated beat that bounces you along. The joy of this is in the little sound effects littered throughout – a bit of bubbling liquid here, a burst of static there – all adding to the sense of a playful, cheerful mind at work. The title suggests the track is a celebration of the radio, and when those thronging high notes soar towards the end you can almost visualise the frequencies floating across the skyline, merging and harmonising together into a unified sound of the city.

8. Bad Boy Chiller Crew - 'Forget Me'

These lads sounds like a total nightmare to be around – like three Liam Gallaghers in their prime who've added cocaine and MDMA to their lager consumption. They know how to please a crowd though, on record as well as on social media (the crew first found fame doing Jackass-style videos around their native Bradford). This year's Charva Anthems is a big upgrade to the BBCC template – the group could afford to commission slick original hooks from female vocalists, which add a healthy dose of feminine pressure to their standard formula of hyperspeed back-and-forth raps about cars, birds, clothes, drugs and parties. 'Forget Me' has my favourite chorus of the bunch – being slightly mellower than the rest of the EP, although that's not saying much as the whole thing delivers on the promise of its title and is never less than anthemic throughout. If nothing else these boys are a reminder of just how joyous and wonderful baseline house can be, and they've done a service to the world by popularising it outside of its northern strongholds.

7. P Money & Silencer - 'Trouble'

Just your standard Silencer riddim – a UK garage-indebted beat sliced up with dramatic strings – and another virtuoso performance from P Money, who is simply the best skippy grime MC ever. 'Trouble' sounds like it could have been on 2009's classic Money Over Everyone except now P's going on about his 'Covid flow' and streaming games on Twitch. I guess we've all developed new hobbies over lockdown. Honestly it's just good to check in on these dudes and see that they're still killing it. That said, I do find P Money's lack of solidarity ("Had a ting putting in work / Left-wing politics meant I had to sack her.") somewhat dispiriting.

6. Tinashe (prod. Stargate) - 'The Chase'

Pushed up because this year's 333 is a great record, trying all kinds of different moods and genres and generally pulling them off. 'The Chase' is the big power pop ballad – booming drums and a soaring chorus designed to be blown out of cars or over rooftops. There's even a hint of a guitar solo squiggling around towards the end to add an extra layer of Guns & Roses grandiosity to the song. It's about getting over a relationship and feeling like you don't need anyone else in the world, and Tinashe makes it sound great.

5. Meridian Dan feat. President T & JME (prod. Sir Spyro) - 'Teachers Pets'

Meridian Dan is an earworm master craftsman. As soon as you come into contact with the hook you'll have it clanging around your skull for the rest of the day. He doesn't even finish it half the time knowing you'll be able to fill in the blanks. Spiro's minimalist beat gives grime legend President T plenty of opportunities to pause for effect (his signature move), but really I'm all about JME protective father energy at the end: "dad now, married and that / yard, garden, garage and that / why you want to war with the vets / especially now I've got more to protect?" You and me both, brother.

4. PinkPantheress - 'I must apologise'

I'll admit to initially being a bit suspicious about the nostalgic bent of this project – PinkPantheress starting out by reworking god-tier UK garage and drum & bass classics 'Flowers' and 'Circles' into vibey, laid-back rollers and finding an audience on TikTok. Her tunes slap though – you can't fault the craft on display. And the very intimate and authentic tenor of the vocals and lyrics do recontextualise these by-now ancient genres as something that can soundtrack the quotidian headphone moments of teenagers working through their feelings. Ultimately though I'm a sucker for this stuff and PinkPantheress does it very well.

3. Skullcrusher - 'Storm In Summer'

Last year's number one entry is back with a longer and less-perfect EP which is nonetheless still magical. The title track is a proper cinematic triumph, the arrangement beefed up with a full band and with its eyes set on being licenced for the credit roll of an epic romantic movie. Having garnered a fair bit of attention with her music, here Helen Ballentine is ambivalent about what has been read into it, and cautious about what more to reveal or obscure. The hesitancy in the lyrics is answered by the blast of the instrumentation. The outro keeps repeating the line "I wish you could see me start this storm". We certainly hear it.

2. Pale Waves - 'Tomorrow'

The Avril Lavigne worship begins with the cover and lasts all the way through the album's runtime. The whole thing is a pitch-perfect imitation, to my mind made all the sweeter by the band being from rainy Manchester. 'Tomorrow' is basically a 2021 version of Jimmy Eat Word's 'The Middle', if anything even more earnest in its lyrics and delivery, to the point where there's a slight anxiety that in their performative solidarity the band haven't accidentally outed the named characters in their various struggles (if he exists, the Ben in "Ben I know that you love a boy!" might be a bit miffed to have the fact included in a pop song). These minor dissonances aside, the song is a glowing feelgood paean for inclusion targeted at all the misfits in the world. Very uncool but hugely heartwarming.

1. Arm's Length  - 'Eve (Household Name)'

Emo in 2021 in rude health judging by this short release – all six tracks are absolute bangers. The Hotelier's Home, Like NoPlace Is There is the foundational influence on these teenagers from Ontario, Canada, who've somehow sharpened their songs into tight packages of soaring hooks and carefully deployed melodic howls despite never actually having played a show. The lyrics are too convoluted for their own good (what does "I'd rather have bad luck than none" actually mean when you think about it?), but it kind of doesn't matter. They're probably just angry at their parents, which is an inexhaustable theme for a young punk band. 'Eve' is faster and poppier than the rest of the songs on the EP, with an intricately lovely opening riff and a collosal sing-along chorus. Life-affirming every time you throw it on, and a testament to the enduring power of guitar-based pop music.

Chill long-players also appreciated:

Lucy Gooch - Rain's Break EP
Proc Fiskal - Siren Spine Sysex
Erika de Casier - Sensational 
Joy Orbison - still slipping vol. 1

Old emo things newly appreciated:

Knuckle Puck - Copacetic
Into It. Over It. - Proper
Pinegrove - Cardinal
Jimmy Eat World - Clarity


My year in lists 2021

There is less to list this year so I've consolidated films, books and games into one big post. Having done these end of year accounts for a while, it looks like I've continued to lose interest in films and books while trying to expand my knowledge of games. The below is ordered roughly by preference.


I did manage a couple of trips to the cinema this year – of which the experience of Dune at an empty screening at my local indie beat the classics I saw at the BFI Southbank and the Prince Charles. The links below go to what I've managed to write about on here, but I've also set up a Letterboxd account where I jot down stray thoughts. The platform has been a good way to find new things I'd want to watch, alongside the weird and wonderful items discussed in the Savage Beast podcast (the best film podcast).

Denis Villeneuve - Dune

John Fawcett - Ginger Snaps [link]
Olivia Wilde - Booksmart [link]
Robert Eggers - The Lighthouse [link]
Anthony Minghella - The Talented Mr Ripley
Michael Mann - Heat [link]
Kathryn Bigelow - Point Break
Rob Reiner - A Few Good Men [link]
Boots Riley - Sorry To Bother You
Akira Kurosawa - Drunken Angel [link]
Kenji Mizogouchi - My Love Has Been Burning [link]
Russell Mulcahy - Highlander 


I got a bit sick of reading science fiction after finishing off Gene Wolfe's 'Solar Cycle' – he's one of my favourite authors but I really needed a break after 12 books. I picked up some contemporary fiction (by women for a change) as a bit of a palate clense, and there was enjoyment to be hand. Having avoided non-fiction for most of the year, I tore through some slim but potent pamplets on politics and culture in the winter months. The links below go to reviews on Goodreads, where I tend to write up most of the things I read even though the site is a bit garbage. I'm poking around Storygraph here, but while I like the data there's less of an emphasis on reviews, so I'm not sure how much I'll persist with it. 

Felipe Pepe (ed.) - The CRPG Book: A Guide to Computer Role-Playing Games [link]
Dan Ozzi - Sellout: The Major-Label Feeding Frenzy That Swept Punk, Emo, and Hardcore (1994–2007) [link]
Kit Mackintosh - Neon Screams: How Drill, Trap and Bashment Made Music New Again [link]
George Orwell - The Lion and the Unicorn: Socialism and the English Genius [link]
Roger Scruton - Conservatism: Ideas in Profile [link]
Christopher Bigsby - Viewing America: Twenty-First-Century Television Drama [link]
Mark Bould - The Anthropocene Unconscious: Climate Catastrophe Culture [link]

M. John Harrison - The Course of the Heart [link]
Ursula K. Le Guin - The Left Hand of Darkness [link]
Ursula K. Le Guin - The Tombs of Atuan [link]
Sally Rooney - Conversations With Friends [link]
Anne Carson - The Beauty of the Husband [link]
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie - Americanah [link]
John Crowley - Little, Big [link]
Poul Anderson - The Broken Sword [link]
Raymond Chandler - The High Window [link]
Susanna Clarke - Piranesi [link]
Gene Wolfe - The Book of the Short Sun [link] [link] [link]

Dan Schaffer - The Scribbler [link]
Joseph Michael Linsner - Angry Christ Comix [link]


Gaming is still where I'm mostly at though. Last year I exclusively played CRPGs, whereas this year I branched out a bit and tried an adventure game, some puzzle games, an action-platformer and a JRPG for the first time (all on the iPhone). My heart is still set on the CRPGs genre however – the New Vegas playthrough that stretched over the winter months and into spring was in aggregate the most transcendent experience of media I've had in a very long time.

Obsidian Entertainment - Fallout: New Vegas [link]
Larian Studios - Divinity: Original Sin 2 [link]
Firaxis Games - XCOM: Enemy Within
Konami - Castlevania: Symphony of the Night [link]
Valve - Portal / Portal 2
Square - Chrono Trigger [link]
Playdead - Inside
Capybara Games - Grindstone
thatgamecompany - Journey
Double Fine Productions - Day of the Tentacle Remastered [link]
ConcernedApe - Stardew Valley