BEST OF 2021: Non-Metal Records

Circuit des Yeux’s Haley Fohr

This is a heavy metal site, but that music isn’t the be all end all. I try to be an adventurous listener, but it’s been a really hard year. The worst I can remember. A lot of my musical choices have centered on comfort because I needed familiar voices and sounds. I needed a way to get out of the pain and hurt that was on my trail the entire time. These are, in alphabetical order, some of the non-metal records that helped get me through.

CIRCUIT DES YEUX, “-io” (Matador): Haley Fohr has been making blunt, imaginative music for years now under the Circuit des Yeux banner, her husky voice something that isn’t always welcoming at first but always finds a way to draw you in. “-io” is her seventh record under this banner, and it contains some of  her most engaging and inventive work ever (“Dogma” has been in my brain ever since I first heard it on vacation in August, the drum beat stampeding me), and it’s all over this amazing record that also peaks on “Sculpting the Exodus” and “The Chase.” (Oct. 22)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/CircuitdesYeux/

To buy the album, go here: https://www.matadorrecords.com/store.matadorrecords.com/-io

For more on the label, go here: https://www.matadorrecords.com/

CHARLOTTE CORNFIELD, “Highs in the Minuses” (Double Double Whammy/Polyvinyl): Charlotte Cornfield came into my life when the Canadian artist’s song “Destroy Me” came up on a Spotify mix and sunk a dagger in my heart. The simple chorus of, “My anxiety’s crippling, where does it come from, where is it going, will it destroy me?” basically was like a summary of my year. Her naked, vulnerable delivery absolutely selling that dread. Elsewhere on her fourth record, she’s just as impactful on “Pac-Man,” reality check “Headlines,” and crushing ballad “Drunk on You.” (Oct. 29)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/cornfieldmusic

To buy the album, go here: https://dbldblwhmmy.com/store

Or here: https://www.polyvinylrecords.com/product/highs_in_the_minuses

For more on the label, go here: https://dbldblwhmmy.com/

And here: https://www.polyvinylrecords.com/

SIERRA FERRELL, “Long Time Coming” (Rounder): I can admit when I’m wrong, and I absolutely was when I didn’t pay attention to Sierra Ferrell at first because I knew she was a YouTube star. Well, goddamn if I’m not a fool, because her debut record “Long Time Coming” is a revelation, and her voice is something you need to hear to fully understand. Her old-time country sound is dressed with her West Virginia roots, and she shines on “In Dreams,” “The Sea,” and “Bells of Every Chapel.” I can’t get her music out of my mind, and luckily I can just keep indulging as long as I want. (Aug. 20)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/sierraferrellmusic

To buy the album, go here: https://store.rounder.com/collections/sierra-ferrell

For more on the label, go here: https://rounder.com/

THE HOLD STEADY, “Open Door Policy” (Positive Jams/Thirty Tigers): I’ve gone on about this before, but 2021 was a horrible year for me that was rife with personal tragedies. So, I tended to fall back into comfort a lot, and the Hold Steady are one of those bands that makes it feel like having beers with old friends and discussing our Catholic guilt. It’s great to hear this band back on a roll the past few years (keyboard player/back-up singer Franz Nicolay’s return was crucial), and they fire on all cylinders on these tracks that sometimes feel like the people in your life who really, truly know you. (Feb. 19)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/TheHoldSteady

To buy the album, go here: https://theholdsteady.bandcamp.com/album/open-door-policy

For more on the label, go here: https://www.thirtytigers.com/

JAPANESE BREAKFAST, “Jubilee” (Dead Oceans): “Be Sweet” is the best damn pop song of the year, and I won’t hear any other opinions. “Jubilee” is the record that took Michelle Zauner’s great Japanese Breakfast from a steady indie favorite to a force that can conquer much more, and this third album is powered by so many great songs such as “Savage Good Boy,” “Paprika,” “Posing in Bondage,” and awesome closer “Posing for Cars.” This album is a triumph in every sense of the world, and it’s as exciting now as it was the first time I heard it.  (June 4)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/japanesebreakfast/

To buy the album, go here: https://www.secretlystore.com/dead-oceans

For more on the label, go here: https://deadoceans.com/

MARISSA NADLER, “The Path of the Clouds” (Sacred Bones): A longtime favorite at this site, Marissa Nadler is one whose work has bled into metal’s periphery (she worked with Xasthur and Stephen Brodsky), but her solo work has been so special and haunting, that we cannot help but genuflect in front of her. She focuses on mystery, tragedy, and murder on this awesome record, sweeping in with storytellers such as “Bessie, Did You Make It?” about two lovers dying on an adventure, “Couldn’t Have Done the Killing,” and stunning closer “Lemon Queen.” She has outdone herself again. (Oct. 29)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.marissanadler.com/

To buy the album, go here: https://www.sacredbonesrecords.com/collections/marissa-nadler

For more on the label, go here: https://www.sacredbonesrecords.com/

EMMA RUTH RUNDLE, “Engine of Hell” (Sargent House): Emma Ruth Rundle’s music is no stranger to pain and loss, and that is all over “Engine of Hell,” a record so stripped back and vulnerable, it sometimes feels intrusive to listen to these songs. You know things are different on opener “Return,” an acoustic number with Rundle’s voice scratching for something, letting us know that things are different now. “Blooms of Oblivion” brings back painful memories, trips to the methadone clinic, and hopelessness, while “Dancing Man” actually has some bright points that shine through. “In My Afterlife” is a classic Rundle closer where she throttles you emotionally, admitting, “I have a feeling I might be here a while.” I hope she can find some peace and love she so richly deserves.  (Nov. 5)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/emmaruthrundle/

To buy the album, go here: https://www.hellomerch.com/collections/emma-ruth-rundle

For more on the label, go here: https://www.sargenthouse.com/

STRAND OF OAKS, “In Heaven” (Thirty Tigers): A few years ago, Timothy Showalter made a Strand of Oaks record that seemed to confound people (I like “Hard Love” but whatever), but since then, he’s been on fire. “In Heaven” is another classic Strand record that feels hard edged but also full of sentimentality and emotion, following in a similar path as a mutual hero of ours Jason Molina. This is a damn great record that highlights with “Jimi and Stan,” a sad but sweet tale of two friends in the afterlife; really great “Somewhere in Chicago”; and “Galacticana” that is one of the catchiest and most positive songs of Showalter’s career. It just fills you with sun, especially when he sings, “I just like hanging out.” Such a great track. (Oct. 1)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/strandofoaks

To buy the album, go here: https://strandofoaks.bandcamp.com/album/in-heaven

For more on the label, go here: https://www.thirtytigers.com/

TORRES, “Thirstier” (Merge): Mackenzie Scott has made some truly great music under the Torres name, with every record offering something completely different from what came before it. It feels like she hits a groove on “Thirstier,” her fifth record and one of her most confident. She also has some fun, which is nothing new for her, with the title track, the grungy puncher “Are You Sleepwalking?” and the sweet but cautious “Don’t Go Putting Wishes in My Head,” where she jabs her mate with, “I know promising forever’s not your thing, but now if you don’t want me to go dreaming, don’t spend your mornings and evenings in my bed.” (July 30)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/TORRESMUSICOFFICIAL

To buy the album, go here: https://www.mergerecords.com/store

For more on the label, go here: https://www.mergerecords.com/

FAYE WEBSTER, “I Know I’m Funny Haha” (Secretly Canadian): I’m not sure Faye Webster is capable of writing a bad song or a mediocre song, because she hasn’t done it yet. All she does is turn up with gold like she does on her third record, the affectionately named “I Know I’m Funny Haha,” the title of which originates from a conversational turn in the title track. “Better Distractions” is the perfect doorway into the record; “A Dream With a Baseball Player” is so great and fun; “Cheers” can make your insides quake; and “In a Good Way” is a jazzy ballad that’s classy and heartfelt, turning your heart on overdrive. (June 25)

For more on the band, go here: https://www.facebook.com/websterfaye

To buy the album, go here: https://www.secretlystore.com/secretly-canadian

For more on the label, go here: https://secretlycanadian.com/

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