The Best of 2021

And so we reach the end of another year. The older I get the faster they fly by, the monotonous routine of COVID living adding to the Groundhog Day feel that is sometimes more like existing than living. Fortunately things are opening up a bit so we’ve been able to get out and enjoy some events like Seattle Kraken hockey games and meals with friends. A weekly Dungeons & Dragons game on Zoom gives us something to look forward to every week and our dog Evie won’t let us get too lazy, insisting on her morning walks and play sessions in the yard. Plus there’s the music. The music is always there, a way to be transported away for a while. There’s never enough time to listen to all the music I want to hear.

I didn’t blog much in 2021, only seven posts prior to today, and I’m not sure what the future holds for Life in the Vinyl Lane. We’ll just have to wait and see. Regardless, I listened to a ton of great music this year, and hopefully these lists may point you toward a band or artist that you will fall in love with.

Top 5 New Releases In 2021

1. Generation Loss – Steve Summers (US)
2. Mobile Home – GusGus (Iceland)
3. Ashamed – Mad Foxes (France)
4. Music Library 02 – Hvörf (Iceland)
5. Nightshade – NAOS (Iceland)

If you’ asked me at the start of December which album would top this list, I’d have said Mobile Home. But then a box of records I bought on a Bandcamp Friday from the L.I.E.S. label arrived and Steve Summers blew my mind. I’m not sure I can explain precisely why I love Generation Loss. I just know that when I put it on, I enjoy every single thing I hear, and if I play it on Spotify I also like almost everything the algorithm throws at me once the album is over. I suspect in 2022 I’ll be digging into his catalog and grabbing some of his earlier 12″ singles.

GusGus is one of my all-time favorite groups, and Mobile Home did not disappoint, the duo of Biggi and Daniél adding Vök vocalist Margrét Rán to the lineup to give an ethereal quality to the new album. This is the first time since I started doing these year-end lists that GusGus put out a new album and didn’t take the top spot on my Top 5. Don’t let that fool you – they’re hardly slipping, and GusGus remains a group I go back to time after time after time.

I first heard about Mad Foxes thanks to Mrs. Life in the Vinyl Lane, who texted me when she heard one of their songs on KEXP and said I needed to check them out. By the time she got home a few hours later I had already ordered their new album Ashamed as well as their 2018 CD Desert Island Wish. A bit punk-ish, a bit post-punkish, their sound orbits a lot of styles and bands I like. Hvörf made my Top 5 “New To Me” list in 2019, and their electro-library music is great for just chilling out. NAOS rounds out the list with his edgy, techno Nightshade cassette. This one is tough to find, and I don’t think any of his stuff is on Spotify either, but it’s worth the effort to track down.

Top 5 “New to Me” Bands/Performers

1. Jeno Void
2. Algebra Suicide
3. The Ruts
4. Hoodoo Fushimi
5. Laserdance

I could have easily included three artists from my Top 5 New Releases list here, but that seemed a bit too obvious.

I first heard about Jeno Void from, of all places, Instagram, when Seattle’s Selector Records posted about some old school Jeno cassettes that had just come in. I managed to snag three of these by mail, and later a fourth at the shop, and I have to say that I could play these sets over and over and over again. it’s like having a rave in your living room. Hoodoo Fushimi also came to me via Selector with the re-release of the funky ケンカおやじ.

I can’t remember how I learned about Algebra Suicide, but I got hooked on their quirky indie/post-punk/no wave weirdness. The Ruts came to my attention thanks to Henry Rollins’ Stay Fanatic books – with how much he raved about the band I figured I needed to check them out, and I’m glad I did. Laserdance was a shot in the dark – a rewards program at work was shutting down and I converted those points into an Amazon gift card, so I decided to look at some box sets. One that caught my eye was Laserdance’s The Ultimate Fan Box, because who doesn’t want some 1980s Euro synth-pop? I know I do. So I did. And it’s pretty great.

Top 5 Purchases/Acquisitions

1. B.Q. Wave – Vector
2. Realm of Chaos – Blot Thrower
3. Jeno Void Cassettes
4. L.I.E.S. Records
5. V 1/2 Performed Live In Seattle – Led Zeppelin

Vector’s B.Q. Wave was actually the least expensive item on this list, but it will always hold a special place in my collection as it was the 1,000th Icelandic release (across all formats) I acquired. Funny that it came to me not from Iceland, but instead from Seattle’s own Selector Records. It’s hard to believe I’ve amassed that many items from Iceland. And in case you’re wondering, I didn’t slow down with my Icelandic purchases after picking this up – the count currently stands at 1,058 releases, with more already in the mail.

Bolt Thrower’s Realm of Chaos has been in constant rotation on Spotify since I came upon it for the first time last year. Plus as a fan of Warhammer 40,000 fiction the idea of a Warhammer concept death metal album appeals to me. It also has quite an odd backstory. Games Workshop originally allowed the band to use the painting on the cover, but when the label approached GW about a later re-issue the company and it’s IP had grown much bigger and more valuable, meaning there were more lawyers, and ultimately they refused to extend the license. The band did not want the album re-released with a different cover, but the label went ahead and commissioned the same artist who did the original to do a similar-but-not-too-similar new work, which was then used on later releases, much to the disgust of Bolt Thrower who have told fans not to buy it. I’ve coveted copies with the original artwork, and I finally broke down and bought a gatefold original pressing.

Jeno Void and the L.I.E.S. label came into my orbit thanks to Sherman at Selector. Since then I’ve picked up 4-5 Jeno cassettes and at least a dozen L.I.E.S. releases, including my pick for the top album of 2021, Steve Summers’ Generation Loss. As for the live Led Zep, I love the band and have always had an interest in any of their stuff live from Seattle, so when I ran across this at a location that shall remain nameless I just had to pick it up. The sound quality isn’t the best, but it’s still a cool artifact.

Top 5 Live Shows

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For the second consecutive year we didn’t see a single live show. Which sucks immeasurably. On a positive note, we have been to a few larger events, most notably a handful of NHL games to cheer on our new team, the Seattle Kraken, so at least we’re starting to feel comfortable enough to go out in group settings. We’re moderately optimistic about 2022, enough so that we already have tickets for the Swedish House Mafia show here in Seattle later in the year. Fingers crossed.

Top 5 Artists on Spotify

1. GusGus
2. The Ruts
3. Beastie Boys
4. F-Rontal
5. Space 92

A lot of folks post on Facebook and Instagram when Spotify produces its year-end listening summaries to each user. And like last year, there were a few surprises fon mine. First and foremost was the sheer amount of time Mrs. Life in the Vinyl Lane and I spent streaming – 134,469 minutes, which equates to 2,241 hours or 93.4 full days. With both of us working from home and streaming individually in different rooms, this kind of makes sense – a typical work day could involve 20+ hours of streaming. But it’s still a lot of listening.

As for the artists themselves, there were a few surprises. GusGus in the top spot was to be expected, especially with them releasing a new album in 2021. The Ruts raised an eyebrow, though I went through a pretty big Ruts phase earlier in the year. The Beastie Boys are an all-time favorite and never disappoint, so that makes sense. The last two artists, well… I don’t know that I could have named them prior to seeing them on this list. It turns out that both have tracks on a playlist called Techno Bunker that we listen to A LOT, so that’s clearly how they cracked into the Top 5.

Top 5 Places to Buy Records

1. Bandcamp
2. Selector Records – Seattle
3. Lucky Records – Reykjavik
4. Easy Street Records – Seattle
5. Discogs

I tried to shop on as many Bandcamp Fridays as I could – I appreciate the platform’s commitment to artists, and knowing that the artists would receive all the proceeds from purchases on those days got me onto the site just looking for stuff. I ended up making a few decent sized purchases, most notably from the L.I.E.S. and Intellitronic Bubble. Discogs, as always, was also a great online source.

As for bricks-and-mortar, this year I “discovered” one of Seattle’s newer record ships, Selector Records. Selector specializes in electronic and DJ music and my man Sherman has curated a great inventory of labels, genres, and artists into a relatively small space. I don’t think I’ve walked out of there with less than 10 records (and a few tapes) in my bag after any of my visits this year. Easy Street continues to be a local favorite as well, though the closure of the West Seattle Bridge made it harder to get to. And while we didn’t travel to Iceland this year, I believe I had three boxes arrive from Reykjavik courtesy of my friends at Lucky Records, with another box being assembled for January shipment.

I bought a metric ton of music in 2021, and while space is stating to become an issue, I don’t expect to slow down in 2022.

Top 5 Music Books Read

1. Avant-Garde From Below: Transgressive Performance from Iggy Pop to Joe Coleman and GG Allin by Clemens Marschall
2. Once Upon a Time in Shaolin: The Untold Story of the Wu-Tang Clan’s Million-Dollar Secret Album, the Devaluation of Music, and America’s New Public Enemy No. 1 by Cyrus Bozorgmehr
3. Love In Vain – The Story Of The Ruts & Ruts D.C. by Roland Link
4. GusGus 25 Ára
5. A Pig’s Tale: The Underground Story of the Legendary Bootleg Record Label by Ralph Sutherland and Harold Sherrick

Only two of these books were newly released in 2021, but no matter. Avant-Garde From Below profiled a small number of musicians and performance artists and forced me to think a bit about the question of “what is art”. And now that I think about it, so too did Once Upon a Time In Shaolin; I always saw that one-off Wu-Tang album as a bit of a stunt, but it was actually much more than that, it was an artistic statement. Honorable mention to the crowdfunded GusGus 25 Ára photo book, an exquisite piece of publishing if there ever was one.

And that’s a wrap, folks. Hope to catch you here again in 2022.

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