Wednesday 22 December 2021


2021 has been a very strong year for albums. Our top three would have topped this list in most of the years that we've being doing this. Our top five features a band about to celebrate its fortieth anniversary with an album that stands up against anything they've ever released, a Manchester band's second album in two years who are hopefully on the brink of bigger things, a rich emotional debut from an Italian songwriter, a long-awaited return after over a decade away from a much-loved singer-songwriter and a ninth solo album from a singer entering her third decade in the business.



Marissa Nadler's ninth solo album The Path Of The Clouds came out late in the year, following the lead-in of the trio of singles Bessie Did You Make It?, If I Could Breathe Underwater and Couldn't Have Done The Killing. It's Marissa's most impressive body of work to date, full of rich melodies, haunting gothic vocals and a sense of mystery permeating through the music.

Each of the eleven songs has a revealing personality of its own, piano, harp and woodwind all play their part in creating the majestic adventurous landscapes for Marissa to tell these stories and draw the listener into them. For someone twenty years into their career to produce their finest body of work in an impressive feat, but The Path Of The Clouds feels like her masterpiece work.

Marissa Nadler's website can be found here and she is on Facebook and Twitter.


"It's been a long time" Fretwell sings on Busy Guy's lead track The Long Water and indeed it has since 2008's second album Man On The Roof. The mystery deepened with each passing year and the internet hashtag #wheresfretwell was coined to try and track down the elusive songwriter who'd retreated into family life before being coaxed by Speedy Wunderground's Dan Carey back into the studio where Busy Guy was recorded in one day. It shows in a beautifully revealing and honest record that showcases the real Fretwell that was often lost under the pressure of trying to please major label paymasters on his previous two albums. This is the real deal.

Our review for Louder Than War concluded "Busy Guy has the feel of an album that’s been a lifetime in the making. Freed of the major label pressure to write hit singles, it is a very simple record wracked with fragility and vulnerability. It is a response to the world around him falling apart during the process of crafting it. The silence and spaces in the songs often have as much impact as the guitars and the words in creating the effect that you’ve been let into the most private thoughts, emotions and fears of its creator."

Stephen Fretwell's website can be found here and he is on Facebook and Twitter.


Described by Julia, resident of Manchester but from the Brescia region of Italy, as "a collection of emotions and feelings; loneliness, solitude, separation, but also unconditional love" Bauhaus L'Appartamento delves into the complex subjects of "family, emotional dependency, mental health issues, feelings of emptiness and numbness, feelings of not being enough, inability to be in control of my own emotions, self-doubt, self-reflection, past traumas and dealing with them" with a searing open honesty that's both disarming but completely relatable to most people. Delivered with a voice that evocatively embellishes those emotions set to an understated musical backing that allows the listener to focus on the lyrics, it's the most personal and revealing album of the year that will resonate with the experiences of others.

Our review concluded "Bauhaus L'Appartamento is a record for every mood - you can allow it to wash over you, Julia's vocals soothing you over the music which lets her take centre stage, or you can dive in, immerse yourself in the sadness, uncertainty and romantic optimism that runs right through it if you reach under the surface - and find it more relatable than you'd think. It's full of hidden depths, new revelations, subtle vocal intonation here, a slight change of direction there, that makes it a fascinating rabbit hole of an album with something new around each corner."

Julia Bardo's website can be found here and she is on Facebook and Twitter.


Ist Ist's debut album Architecture was a deserved winner of our Albums Of 2020 list last year. The Art Of Lying might not have achieved that accolade, but is very much a progression from that record, opening their sound up to become more accessible without losing any of the intensity and integrity of their music. Singles It Stops Where It Starts and Extreme Greed have big immediate choruses that have won them more admirers, but it's the strength of every track on the album that makes them such a thrilling proposition both on record and in the live environment.

Our review concluded "The Art Of Lying is a mightily impressive body of work from a band who've ploughed their own path for the past six years with a fiercely independent streak and a very strong sense of identity to go with it. It is uncompromisingly a record that they've made for themselves, but which possesses the power and intensity to connect to a much wider audience, organically in their own way as evidenced by the sold-out signs going up on their tour dates but with the opportunity for so much more should the industry take a punt on them in the way they've done with some of their contemporaries."

Ist Ist are on Facebook and Twitter.

The Art Of Lying was released on November 26 on black and cobalt blue vinyl, limited edition 2 disc vinyl with demos, CD and cassette and can be ordered via their website. Digital versions of their previous limited edition releases and a number of live field recordings are available to download from their Bandcamp.


Whilst it might seem inevitable that our favourite band's new album makes number one on our list, it's worth noting that neither of the previous two did. All The Colours Of You is James' sixteenth studio album released in June featuring the lead tracks All The Colours Of You and Beautiful Beaches. Written before lockdown and recorded remotely during it with Jacknife Lee at the helm, it shows one of the country's most-loved established bands sounding at their freshest. 

Our review concluded "Without the often stifling intensity of the studio environment the songs on All The Colours Of You are given the space to breathe, James relinquishing control to Jacknife and allowing his ideas to infiltrate and infuse the record in a way their search for absolute perfection has sometimes prevented their albums from reflecting the energy and risk-tasking adrenaline of their live shows. Circumstance has led to compromise in approach, but not to quality." 

"Like when Eno loosened those chains during the recording of Laid and Wah Wah, All The Colours Of You is perhaps the most Jamesian of James albums - an instinctive unplanned reaction to whatever chaos the world has thrown at the band. If you're here to relive your youth, you've come to the wrong place. Perhaps All The Colours Of Us would have been a more appropriate title"

James' official website can be found here. They are on Facebook and Twitter.  Some of the band - TimAndy and Dave - are also on Twitter

We also run the One Of The Three James archive, the most detailed resource for information about the band, and the site also has a Facebook and Twitter page. TimBoothLyricADay, whose posts often lead to Tim explaining his thought processes behind the lyrics, can be found on Twitter and Facebook.


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