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Flagpole‘s 10 Favorite Albums of 2021

Credit. Sarah Ann White

The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown one frustrating obstacle after another towards the majority of bands hoping to release new albums: social distancing placed band practices and recording studio visits on ice, vinyl pressing plants bottlenecked, venues shuttered and touring screeched to a halt. To release anything at all right now is a huge accomplishment in and of itself. Making the most of social isolation and life in limbo, this blurry, nearly-two-year chapter has witnessed a handful of treasured reissues and interesting releases of unearthed material as artists dug through their archives to stay busy. And of course, a remarkable number of headstrong artists managed to navigate a rapidly changing environment to get their new tunes into your hands. “Best of” lists tend to be driven by streams, sales or general palpability, so skip the popularity contest and ask a music writer, record store clerk, college radio DJ or venue employee for recommendations based on your personal tastes. Below, check out 10 albums released in 2021, listed in alphabetical order, that caught the eyes and ears of Flagpole’s freelance staff. [Jessica Smith]

Blunt Bangs

Blunt Bangs: Proper Smoker

By the time Proper Smoker was released, it had sat in the can, completed, for nearly two years. Not that you’d know it by listening, though, as Blunt Bangs rocks with the immediacy of a group that writes one day and releases the next. It’s easy to slot this album deservedly among every conceivable classic power pop. Its lyrical yearning is wrapped in hooks so uplifting that even through its vulnerability there’s a sense of joy. When playing it’s easy to say, “This is my favorite song!” until the next one comes on, and then it’s that one. And on and on and on until it’s over. [Gordon Lamb]


CLOUDLAND: Where We Meet

Indie rock and soft pop collide in the latest album released by CLOUDLAND. Fuzzy guitar, driving beats and vocals with just the right amount of edge work together to inspire a sense of vague nostalgia—a strong longing for something that once was. In my experience, the essence of an album is best captured by where you want to be when you’re listening to it. After listening to the first track on Where We Meet, called “Sunday Afternoon,” I felt I should be sitting on a front porch with a group of friends, drinking beer and recounting old stories from our past. [Rosemary Scott]

Coma Therapy

Coma Therapy: This House Was Built on Terror

Born in upstate South Carolina and now based in Athens, post-punk foursome Coma Therapy’s This House Was Built on Terror is full of perfectly crunchy vocals, grungy guitar riffs and yearning lyricism—all blending together seamlessly. The title track opens the album with staticy voiceovers and strong guitar solos giving a sense of what’s to come. “House of Lords” takes a turn toward indie-pop with its joyful riffs and tone. Midway through, they hit us with “Walking Down The Steps,” and its eerie crackling noises and ambient instrumentals lead smoothly into the next. The angst of living through a pandemic shines through this shoe-gazey 10-song album. These folks have definitely found the right home for their music, and I look forward to seeing them play all over town. [Jessie Goodson]

Dr. Trance

Dr. Trance: Unfinished Work

I was more moved by this album in 2021 than any other, local or otherwise. Working as Dr. Trance, musician and composer Nick Bradfield populated this album with 16 very long songs that explore—as I mentioned in my original review of this—unrequited love, walking in faith and fearlessness, and vanquishing hopelessness. Recalling such emotionally charged modern artists as Sigur Rós and, to a lesser extent, Tycho, Bradfield delivered an unwittingly therapeutic bible of emotionally charged exploration and resolution. While this album should be shared far and wide, it remains a solitary listen whose meaning will be as varied as those who hear it. [GL]

Four Eyes

Four Eyes: I Hope This Finds You Well 

Athens’ beloved Four Eyes was the first show I saw at the Caledonia Lounge when I moved to Athens several years ago. Since that simple yet beautiful solo set, I’ve been hooked on her comforting lyricism and tone that shines through on this quarantine-induced masterpiece. The opening tune, “Good Bones,” reflects on songwriter Erin Lovett’s time spent at home with her partner. Songs like “Oh No” and “Already Looking Back” discuss the new normal, the guilt of finding peace and happiness stuck at home with someone you love, and the new outlooks on the simple things. Lovett’s words always have a way of making whoever is listening feel less alone, and this album is no exception. She did it again, folks. Can’t wait to see what we get next. [JG]

Kxng Blanco

Kxng Blanco: LvrBoy 2

The opening track of LvrBoy 2 draws listeners in with the familiar sound of a friend or family member’s voicemail. Rotating through messages, “Missed Call Pt. 2” is an extension and counterpart to the opening track of Kxng Blaco’s 2019 album LvrBoy. Blanco is known in Athens for his smooth storytelling and production skills that very clearly show in this 17-song package featuring guests UntilNextTime, Dwayne Goodson and Baby Angelus on several tracks. The lyricist explores the complicated nature of romantic relationships with strong beats, harmonies and the perfect amount of auto-tune. [JG]

The Pink Stones

The Pink Stones: Introducing…The Pink Stones

Psychedelic Americana are the words that best capture the rich sonic palette from which The Pink Stones carved out their debut album. From the colorful tones of “Blueberry Dreams” to the majesty and subtlety resonating in the steel-strings of “Barroom Blues” and “Dream So Sweetly,” Introducing… gives nods to everyone from Gram Parsons and the Flying Burrito Brothers to the Meat Puppets—music for a high and lonesome night at the honky-tonk. When wine, women and song have done you wrong, and the guy at the end of the bar looks like he wants to fight, singer and songwriter Hunter Pinkston’s words blend with the slide guitar, and you’ve instantly found a lifelong drinking buddy. [Chad Radford]

T. Hardy Morris

T. Hardy Morris: The Digital Age of Rome

Despite the warm and lingering tones and melodies guiding songs such as “DirtRocker,” “Shopping Center Sunsets” and “Just Pretend Everything is Fine,” there is a quiet urgency lingering behind every note and every turn of phrase throughout The Digital Age of Rome. Nostalgia is out the window, as T. Hardy Morris offers a survey of the Georgia landscape set against the backdrop of a culture that’s consumed by its own excesses. The album is an exercise in Zen meditation while the world burns, and features some of Morris’ most pointed and compelling songwriting to date. [CR]

Vision Video

Vision Video: Inked In Red

Inked In Red stamps in time a dark but transformative era for Athens avatar of the undead Vision Video. While the world quaked in the uncertainty of a global pandemic, exacerbated by social and political turmoil, singer and guitarist Dusty Gannon worked on the frontlines as a firefighter and paramedic. Confronting the tension yielded a debut album that’s teeming with gorgeous and scenic melodies, powerful hooks and real-time catharsis wrapped in a goth and post-punk veneer. Songs with titles such as “Comfort In the Grave,” “Static Drone” and “Organized Murder” are the perfect soundtrack for staying behind locked doors when the world is too much to bear, or when the urge strikes to hit the dance floor in combat boots and fishnets. [CR]


Wieuca: Burning Platform

Since Wieuca formed in 2012, the only predictable element of each new release has been its originality. Like an outfit from Dynamite, the band consistently combines different elements that normally wouldn’t go together, and somehow they make it work. And Burning Platform, released in October of this year, definitely didn’t disappoint. Fans got a sneak peek of the album with the release of “Llycra,” a music video featuring storytelling in the form of claymation. The track itself, along with the entire album, combines soft lyrics, spoken word and borderline experimental instrumentals to inspire feelings of creativity and empowerment for everyone who listens. [RS]