It’s been another strange year, and despite the lockdowns our busiest yet here at Joyzine with a never ending stream of fantastic new music, films, books, theatre, comedy and art appearing in our inbox in the hope of filling these pages. Six of our writers have sorted through them all to come up with their pick of the best that 2021 had to offer.
Favourite song of 2021: This is often the trickiest category in these articles and 2021 was no different, with fantastic releases by established Joyzine favourites including Piney Gir‘s psychedelic ‘Voice of The Ages‘, Scrounge‘s filthy garage noise track ‘Leaking Drains‘ and the surprise return of Scottish art-pop oddballs How to Swim with Christmas single ‘Melt‘. We were also delighted to welcome back The Burning Hell with ‘Bird Queen of Garbage Island‘, which has me salivating with anticipation for their forthcoming new album due in the new year, while any track from Shattercones cinematic EP This Septic Isle would be a worthy addition to this list and LOUD WOMEN‘s supergoup charity single ‘Reclaim These Streets‘ pulled off the always difficult task of confronting an important societal issue and absolutely kicking arse at the same time.
However, the song that has taken up residence in my head and provoked many a household singalong this year is Stephen Evens‘ tale of the ordeal of a bored retail worker, ‘I Hate Shop (I Am Shop)’.
Favourite album of 2021: Another tricky one, with Gustaf fulfilling the post-punk promise of last year’s single ‘Design’ with the angular Audio Drag for Ego Slobs, and Frauds following up their excellent debut LP with Long Spoons, an album that built on its predecessor’s post-hardcore surrealism with a broader musical palette. But my two favourites of the year were two records that defied categorisation – The Scaramanga Six threw everything, including the kitchen sink, at Worthless Music – a dramatic, maximalist labyrinth of an LP full of unexpected twists and turns, but just pipping them to the post were Deerhoof, who continued to explore the furthest reaches of technicolour guitar pop madness with Actually, You Can, which called for a complete restrucution of societal norms through the medium of bright, slippery, catchy musical odditites. For a band to be eighteen albums in and still creating music this vital is something rare and wonderful that we should be celebrating.
Favourite gig or live stream of 2021: With all that’s been going on, I’ve not made it to many live shows this year, but catching Rocklands‘ night at The Amersham Arms in New Cross was a shot of exactly what I needed, particularly the headline set from from prog-tinged alt-rock up and comers Helve. Also a big shout out to First Timers Fest, which while unfortunately cancelled this year due to the pandemic, provided me with the impetus to play my first ever gig on bass in November, having attended their workshops before the world was plunged into chaos.
In the virtual gig world, it was an amazing and exhausting experience to take part in my first ever SXSW festival online, where I was blown away by performances from Anna B Savage, Otoboke Beaver and festival highlights Jealous, who played as part of the Dedstrange Records showcase. Elsewhere art-punk marching band Perhaps Contraption played a mind-expanding online set for Buds & Spawn, which took full advantage of the opportunities afforded by the medium, while Bell Orchestre‘s virtual gig deep in the Candian wilderness was one of the most beautiful musical moments of the year.
New music discovery of 2021: I’m going to go with Taraka, whose debut album Welcome To Paradise Lost was a transportative, trippy adventure into another world where the colours burn brighter and make your eyes water. She also wrote one of my favourite track by track articles to feature on Joyzine this year, which you can read here.
Favourite film of 2021: I only made it to the cinema a couple of times this year, but I’m glad that one of those was to see Dune, a sumptuous feast for the senses that transported me back to my teenage years devouring the novel for the first time in wide-eyed wonder.
Away from the big screen, Blang Records’ documentary 16 Years of Outsider Music was a reminder of why we all do this, and the Poly Styrene doc I Am A Cliche was heartbreaking, inspiring and compelling, while visceral short Play It Safe rightly claimed the award for best short film at the SXSW film festival.
Favourite book of 2021: Most of my reading this year was of books released before 2021, though I’d definitely give a shout out to Dave Thomson’s Woo! for an honest and passionately written account of music fandom, which takes its inspiration from nights spent at our favourite South London music venue The Windmill.
However the book that affected me most this year has been Dave Eggers’ Zeitoun, at turns uplifting and harrowing, inspiring admiration at the central characters’ perseverance and decency, and disgust at the incompetence and outright discrimination of the authorities around them as they attempt to weather Hurrican Katrina.
Favourite song of 2021: LOW – Disappearing
Favourite album of 2021: Beach Riot – Sub Atomic Party Cool
Favourite gig of 2021: Kings of Convenience at Royal Festival Hall, London
Favourite film of 2021: All blockbusters but nothing I’m proud of. Best film I saw all year was Apostacy but it’s ages old
Favourite exhibition of 2021: James Barnor – A Retrospective @ Serpentine Gallery
Favourite song of 2021: Benefits – Flag
A distorted repellent call to arms. The band of the year.
Favourite album of 2021: The Bug – Fire
A throbbing deep bass dance album that is full to the brim of quality collaborators and Covid era angst. Untouchable.
Favourite gig of 2021: Sleaford Mods at Cardiff Tramshed
A masterclass in set structure, stage design/lighting and crowd safety. Forerunners of everything. Just brilliant.
New music discovery of 2021: Ona Snop
Just absolute joyous 100mph grindcore loveliness.
Favourite film of 2021: Maid
Quite extraordinary in its portrayal of survivors of domestic abuse in America.
Favourite song of 2021: Of all the songs that have hit me this year nothing gave me such a shiver as “It Is The Face Wish How” by Scaramanga Six. It’s frighteningly awesome, being both epic and creepy, nightmarish but ever so inviting, and really not like anything else. Other contenders include the wonderful Yard Act with “Fixer Upper” from the “Dark Days EP”, the story of second homeowner Graham and his hilarious exploits, and “Queen Of The Underground” by Goat from their extras album “Headsoup” for its extended groovy psyche guitar solo alone.
Favourite album of 2021: I think I would have to go for “Gadzooks Volume 1” by Caleb Landry Jones for its unique dive into another world. A world of odd psychedelia, rambling and strange and almost unhinged, like wandering at the end of the world with a straw boater and a cane, dancing to your own internal soundtrack, oblivious to the dangers all around you. Other strong contenders were the aforementioned Scaramanga Six and their brilliant “Worthless Music” album (and also lead singer Paul Morricone’s second solo album “Cruel Designs”), a long awaited new release from Pepe Deluxe, who have travelled the world to bring you their “Phantom Cabinet Vol. 1”. Another gloriously uncategorisable album from Regal Worm titled “The Hideous Goblink”, fresh slabs of Devo inspired rhythms from Squid with “Bright Green Field, and natural world inspired Modern Nature with their limited box “Island Of Noise”.
Favourite gig or festival performance of 2021: A difficult one as I didn’t go to half as many live gigs as I normally would like to due to the ongoing crisis. I did however manage to attend the End of the Road festival and saw a handful of really great performances from the likes of Squid, Anna Meredith, Crack Cloud and Richard Dawson but I would have to say the stand-out performance of the whole weekend had to be Yard Act who shone from start to finish with brilliantly executed wit and observation over a tight Beefheart meets The Fall set, which guaranteed an energetic and robust response from the audience. Lead singer James Smith is a star in the making.
Favourite book of 2021: The best book I read this year was “The Human Age” by Wyndham Lewis, but seeing as how it was written between 1928 and 1955 I’m not sure it counts! I think in that case I would have to go for “Excavate! The Wonderful & Frightening World Of The Fall” which brings together ephemera and essays discussing many aspects of The Fall, from articles about M.R. James and Wyndham Lewis to the inclusion of typed and handwritten press releases written in Mark E. Smith’s inimitable style.
Favourite song of 2021: ‘Paul’s Dream’ by Hans Zimmer from the Dune soundtrack
New music discovery of 2021: caroline (the band)
Favourite films of 2021: Shiang Chi: The Legend of The Ten Rings / Free Guy / Dune
Favourite song of 2021: ‘Boris Johnson Is Still a Fucking Cunt’ by The Kunts
The follow up to last years Xmas No5 chart smash ‘Boris Johnson Is a Fucking Cunt’!
Favourite album of 2021: Utopia Strong – The Ninth Art
If you had told me in 1985 that one day I would buy a series of live improvised synth albums recorded by Steve ‘Interesting’ Davis (Yes, the snooker guy) I wouldn’t have believed you.
Favourite gig of 2021: The Sub Gents @ Tipi Venue
I was most dubious at first of the addition of a keytar player to an established three piece but it really worked.
New music discovery of 2021: Deep Hum
I wasn’t immediately enamoured by the latest release but the previous album got me excited and I bought one on cassette.
Favourite book of 2021: I work in a library but I don’t recall reading anything newly released. Acid for The Children by Flea (RHCPs) was great though. The obligatory chapter on teenage delinquency takes up the whole book and the Chili’s barely get a mention ’til the finale.
Favourite live comedy of 2021: Dave Chappelle – Closer
They tried to cancel him but it only made him more popular.
Favourite exhibition of 2021: Tim Knight – Seascapes @ Gallery 6
Scarborough based artist wakes waves and a few quid. The most expensive pieces sold first.