After many hours trying to determine between two finely-matched albums, it became abundantly clear that October would mark another first for The Baying of Kazak: a tie for album of the month. I can already hear readers in America groan: “a tie! Why did you even bother making the list?” But if any month this year truly deserved two albums of the month, it was October. We were also blessed with a number of exceptional albums alongside those two – take a read below and see if you agree with my choices.
WARNING: All albums and their accompanying videos are completely uncensored. A number of them contain bad language that is unsuitable for children, NSFW topics and images, and/or political commentary that may offend or disturb some.
Albums of the Month
=1. Magdalena Bay – Mercurial World (Pop/Indie, Luminelle Recordings)
The Skinny: 2021 has been another great year for exceptional pop singles. Truth be told, however, up to this point we haven’t been treated to the same levels of classic albums as we’ve come to expect from the genre’s recent history (even if the likes of Kacey Musgraves, Tinashe, and Laura Mvula have produced stunning records by infusing pop greatness into adjacent genres). Enter Magdalena Bay. Citing recent alt-pop masterpieces such as Chairlift’s Moth, Charli XCX’s Vroom Vroom EP, and Grimes’ Art Angels as influences (all impeccable choices worth listening to if you haven’t already), the Los Angeles-via-Miami duo caught my attention last summer with their single How to Get Physical. With its twinkling keys and Mica Tenenbaum’s breathy vocals, that track was a brilliant slice of bubble-gum synth-pop that was clearly more concerned with achieving sugary rushes of adrenaline than it was with maintaining any semblance of fashion or taste-making.
As much as I enjoyed How to Get Physical, I didn’t expect debut album Mercurial World to arrive so fully-formed just over a year later. This is a record of ambitious, forward-thinking pop music and, most importantly of all, it is absolutely overflowing with immense hooks and choruses. Pre-release singles such as Chaeri, You Lose, and Secrets (Your Fire) have been some of the strongest of the year, their melodies embedding in my memory almost as soon as I heard them and refusing to leave. In particular, Chaeri and You Lose showcase an impressive knack for crafting malevolent tension in verses and prechoruses to accentuate the phenomenal sense of release whenever it finally does come (most obviously in the latter’s knockout chorus). But beyond the singles it is noticeable from the very first plays that this laser-focused songwriting extends to most non-single tracks too (e.g. Something for 2 and Domino). Mercurial World rarely feels like it lets up as it takes you from wonder to glittering wonder.
I also get the sense as I listen to Mercurial World that a great deal of care has been put into less instantly gratifying elements of creating a great album. One such example is the album’s sequencing, where the placement and lyrics of The End, Halfway Home, and The Beginning bestow a sense of narrative progression and thematic coherency to the other tracks, even as their intentionally backward order disorients that process at the same time. Similarly, subtle musical bridges are built between a number of tracks where other artists may have been content to leave gaps of silence between them. You’re unlikely to find a smoother transition between tracks than the one between Dawning of the Season and Secrets (Your Fire), which almost without fail will induce a Christian Bale-style “niiiiice” facial expression from yours truly. Mercurial World is clearly not intended to be listened to as just a collection of excellent individual songs – each constituent part is designed to interlink in order to elevate its surroundings and produce a living whole.
Mercurial World does have at least one very minor flaw. The first two thirds are such an intense onslaught of jaw-dropping moments that in comparison parts of the final third do feel like they meander ever so slightly until the malevolent Domino and the Abba-worthy piano of The Beginning conclude proceedings. At fourteen tracks long, this could have been very easily remedied by cutting the two least essential tracks from the running order. Doing so would have likely resulted in a top-five album of the year instead of a top-twenty one. Nevertheless, this is a tiny quibble in the face of such a remarkable record, one that is surely one of the most impressive debut albums and outright strongest pop album of the year. It’s Magdalena Bay’s mercurial world – us listeners are all just extremely fortunate to be living in it.
Standout tracks: Chaeri, You Lose!
For fans of: Chairlift, Metronomy, Grimes, Allie X
= 1. illuminati hotties – Let Me Do One More (Indie Rock, Hopeless Records)
The Skinny: Let Me Do One More initially had me wrongfooted. Whilst there were still plenty of moments on the record where founder and frontperson Sarah Tudzin’s captivating energy and eccentricity shone through (Pool Hopping, MMMOOOAAAAAYAYA, and Joni: La’s No. 1 Health Goth), overall it seemed markedly less explosive than last year’s excellent Free I.H.: This Is Not The One You’ve Been Waiting For. In comparison, much more of Let Me Do One More felt quieter (Protector, The Sway) and/or slower (Knead, Threatening Each Other re: Capitalism, and Kickflip). Given that Free I.H. was a mixtape released essentially as part of “an exit agreement” with troubled former record label Tiny Engines, and Let Me Do One More was supposed to be made up of the ‘better’ songs that had been held back for illuminati hotties’ second album proper, the two final products placed before us seemed back to front. Worse, the fact that lead single MMMOOOAAAAAYAYA’s held significant similarities to parts of last year’s tracks frequent letdown and content//bedtime meant it felt like a splice of the two (albeit a very enjoyable one), regardless of which song(s) were actually written first.
With each subsequent play, however, Let Me Do One More has revealed itself to be not just the equal of Free I.H., but also one of 2021’s finest indie rock albums. Tracks that initially didn’t make sense flourished with time and patience. A subtly catchy chorus and transformative middle 8 make Threatening Each Other re: Capitalism lyrically profound and aptly weary rather than drudging. Placed directly after that track, confusing single U V V P is recast as a joyful palette cleanser with its surf rock guitars, Supremes-esque drums, and twangy spoken-word outro (provided by Big Thief’s Buck Meek). The previous targets of my greatest suspicion, the ballads Protector and The Sway, unveil subtle melodic flourishes that turn the tracks into highlights to look forward to rather than filler to endure.
The first-listen standouts, meanwhile, continue to inspire: Knead’s sludgy alt-rock, reminiscent of early Weezer, trundles along with off-kilter chord progressions until it reaches a thumping middle 8 and a gloriously noisy crescendo; Pool Hopping and MMMOOOAAAAAYAYA remain absolute rippers that start the album off in the best possible fashion; in a connection that I hadn’t even considered previously, the wiry, winding guitar lead and driving major chords of Cheap Shoes link illuminati hotties to another lyrically-whip smart rock outfit The Hold Steady (especially in their Stay Positive era). Tudzin’s trademark “tenderpunk” has rarely been more tender than it is on Let Me Do One More, but don’t misinterpret this as illuminati hotties losing their edge. I’d now go so far as to say that there isn’t a weak track on this record. If it were up to me, I’d let them do as many more as they damn well please.
Standout tracks: Pool Hopping, Knead
For fans of: The Beths, Bikini Kill, The Hold Steady
3. PinkPantheress – to hell with it (Pop/Electronic, Parlophone Records)
The Skinny: Fittingly for a young musician who caught the world’s attention via social media app TikTok, PinkPantheress’ excellent debut album to hell with it knows that brevity can be a virtue when used properly. Not a single track here breaks the three-minute mark, with the London-based singer, songwriter, and producer choosing instead to offer tantalising glimpses of hooks before whisking them away and leaving listeners wanting more. On paper, the decision to dig up beats from unfashionable late-1990s/early-2000s UK dance subgenres and graft them to bedroom-pop melodies and Kero Kero Bonito-style vocals should be a disaster. Instead, it results in a hugely enjoyable debut, one that I can imagine influencing many other electronic musicians for years to come.
Standout tracks: I Must Apologise, Reason
For fans of: Kero Kero Bonito
4. Self Esteem – Prioritse Pleasure (Pop, Universal Music)
The Skinny: Rebecca Lucy Taylor’s second album as Self Esteem builds upon the impressive foundation laid by her wildly underrated debut Compliments Please, one of the great “lost” pop albums of the 2010s. Much like that album, Prioritise Pleasure is seemingly on a mission to capture as many of the bewildering ups-and-downs and contradictions that life as an adult entails as possible. Some of the most instantly accessible singles of the year (Moody, Fucking Wizardry) mix with more avant-garde pop experimentation (I Do This All the Time, I’m Fine). Elsewhere, the sense of triumphalism and jubilation produced by maximalist arrangements often collapses into more muted and vulnerable territory. Lyrically, Taylor is equally likely to channel supreme confidence and withering self-dissection into her forthright, instantly-quotable lines (“Sexting you from the mental health clinic seems counterproductive”). Thanks to the dedicated grassroots fanbase earned by Compliments Please and a near-relentless campaign of preview singles throughout 2021, Prioritise Pleasure debuted at number eleven in the UK albums chart. It’s a deserved breakout for one of the UK’s most honest, relatable, and talented new stars.
Standout tracks: MOODY, Prioritise Pleasure
For fans of: Rae Morris, Florence and the Machine, Phantogram
5. Wiki – Half God (Rap, Wikset Enterprise)
The Skinny: The interest of more than a few hip-hop heads was piqued when news broke that artist du jour Navy Blue would be serving on production duties for Half-God. Those high expectations were surpassed almost as quickly as they formed. The lush beats and sample choices provide plenty of colour and life to enrich Wiki’s bars. For his own part, the New York MC is on fine form too, unleashing almost-stream-of-conscious efforts like Wik Da God, more precise narrative building like Drug Supplier, and sharp social/political commentary like The Business, all in his you-either-love-it-or-you-hate-it voice. All put together, the partnership has resulted in one of the most instantly iconic-sounding and rewarding rap records of 2021.
Standout tracks: New Truths, Wik Da God
For fans of: Ghostface Killa, Navy Blue
6. Eris Drew – Quivering in Time (Dance, Interdimensional Publishing)
The Skinny: The debut album from the DJ, producer, and self-proclaimed “High Priestess of the Motherbeat” Eris Drew is an electrifying collection of left-field dance music. After decamping from her native Chicago to a log cabin in rural New Hampshire, Drew “wrote, recorded, and mixed the album as she stared into the forest through her studio window, collapsing present and past into future” and producing one of my favourite dance records of the year in the process. Tracks like Pick ‘em Up could have easily existed as uncomplicated bangers based around a single idea. Instead, that particular cut twists and turns through seemingly dozens of different melodic and rhythmic ideas. At the same time it never lets up the pace or misses a beat, a quite stupendous feat. Similarly, the thumping beat of Loving Clav is playfully subverted by the quirky tones of the title’s namesake. This is an album that is filled with bright ideas which prove that dance music is by no means formulaic.
Standout tracks: Pick ’em Up, Quivering in Time
For fans of: India Jordan, Todd Terje
7. Hand Habits – Fun House (Indie Rock/Singer-Songwriter, Saddle Creek)
The Skinny: LA-based Meg Duffy has built up an extremely impressive resume as a studio musician, recording for a number of The Baying of Kazak’s favourites such as The War on Drugs, Weyes Blood, Mega Bog, Flock of Dimes, and Amber Arcades. The latest record by their own band Hand Habits, Fun House, sounds like their greatest career accomplishment yet. The album’s highly emotive indie rock produces plenty of moments to make your hairs stand on end, from the warm drive of opener More Than Love to the fraught tension and release of Gold/Rust.
Standout tracks: More than Love, Gold/Rust
For fans of: Sharon Van Etten, Perfume Genius, Angel Olsen
8. Ross From Friends – Tread (Dance/Electronic, Brainfeeder)
The Skinny: In much the same way that we just discussed its abundance of moving indie rock, 2021 has also been blessed with a bounty of forward-thinking dance music. Ross From Friends’ latest album, Tread, is a brilliant example (as is the Eris Drew album reviewed at number six above). Here, a mix of propulsive and twitching beats intertwine with melancholy melodies and weary vocal samples that tug on your heartstrings even as they move your feet.
Standout tracks: Love Divide, Thresho_1.0
For fans of: DJ Seinfeld, Bicep
9. Bedouine – Waysides (Folk/Singer-Songwriter, Bedouine Music)
The Skinny: A hugely comforting warmth pervades Bedouine’s third album Waysides. Azniv Korkejian’s folk-tinged arrangements often sound like they are being beamed into your ears straight from the mid-1970s, filled with soothing vocals and fingerpicked major chords. Highlights such as It Wasn’t Me and I Don’t Need the Light instil a sense of delight and inner peace even in the midst of the most stressful of days. Waysides is the sound of an artist who knows exactly what sort of music they want to make, a fact that is perhaps best displayed by an assured cover of Fleetwood Mac’s much-loved classic Songbird to close out the record.
Standout tracks: I Don’t Need the Light, The Solitude
For fans of: Julie Byrne, Laura Marling, Cat Stevens
10. Kalabrese – Let Love Rumpel (Dance / Indie, RumpelMusic)
11. The War on Drugs – I Don’t Live Here Anymore (Rock, Atlantic)
12. Agnes – Magic Still Exists (Pop, Senga)
More 2021 Albums
© The Baying of Kazak 2021. All rights reserved. All opinions (except those directly attributed to a third party) are the author’s own.
The content found in this site may not be used or replicated without the express permission of the author.
Images featured should not be used or reproduced without the express permission of the copyright holder of the material.