60 Justin Blackburn: Unlearning White America
Jesus Christ, people, Justin Blackburn, Justin fucking Blackburn.
Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, is ‘Blackburn’ even a surname in America?? It’s such a dour, cold & windy, shovelling-cow-shit-into-a-tractor-just-outside-Durham, depressingly prosaic English name that it really doesn’t fit the glitzy imperialism and Hollywood gunplay of the US. It’s like finding out Shawn Michaels’s real second name is Hickenbottom. Has he ever even been to Blackburn? What are his opinions on Alan Shearer?
Secondly, was there a more arresting, more intentionally obnoxious, more on the nose outraged in 2021 than ‘Unlearning White America’? In the last decade?? You should certainly be able to gauge the general thesis of the record by its splenetic title, but I’m telling you now, you have no fucking idea. It’s important to note that Justin Blackburn is a white American himself, so rather than angrily tearing down the racist power structure that prevents perceived outsiders like himself from even a fair chance, he is on the inside (even more angrily) rejecting the inbuilt privileges that the people who grew up around him receive, refuse to acknowledge and even turn to resentment against the USA’s non white inhabitants. Many of the rage is directed toward Justin’s (diegetic? genuine?) father. All the rage is directed towards white America’s assumptions, inattentiveness and, yes, racism. Justin is so centred on the ridiculous state of race relations in his country that he even goes as far as to manage to make ‘Jesus’ rhyme with ‘racist’.
The stances taken on ‘Unlearning White America’ are ferociously lacking in subtlety, which is understandable as these issues often don’t have time for your undergraduate arts degree, but also unfortunately occasionally make the listener flinch with their juvenility and their, eugh, messiness. Blackburn too often goes to the cheap well of racists having small penises or sexual inadequacies, and the problematic and lowkey homophobic accusation of people hating gay people because they are gay themselves. You don’t like gay people?? Well maybe you like it in the bum yourself! You big bumlord!! Actual lyric. Then there’s the odd instance of lines like ‘A black man is as beautiful as a shining sea‘ (gorgeously sung by the guesting Annie Ellie), which are just grossly patronising, and kind of betray the idea – and cruel, unfair assumption – that ‘Unlearning White America’ is the noble but often ill at ease sound of someone passionately advocating for black issues without having met many black people.
Hey dog, you’ve gotta chill, I’m no feeling too good, life’s really hard right now, y’know?
Bow! Wow! Bow! Wow! Bow!
What? What are you saying?!
Bow! Wow! Bow! Wow! Bow! Wow! Bow!
I need to love myself? And then I’ll be able to love life?!
Bow! Wow! Bow! Wow! Bow! Wow! Wow!
Because my inside world is a reflection of my outside world?!
Bow! Wow! Bow! Wow! Bow! Bow! Bow!Lucky Puppy
Sigh, but then Blackburn sings a conversation with his dog, and it’s hard to focus on the album’s failings. Or perhaps then he sings a songs called It’s A Long Way To The Top (if you’re bedroom indie pop), or then the album takes turns into country music, Kanye West inspired hip-hop, gorgeous dream pop and countless other genres. Despite it’s sturm und drag unsubtlety and occasional theoretical clunkers, ‘Unlearning White America’ is a near impossible album to not love, its heart is absolutely in the right place, its rage and hatred is absolutely directed in the right direction, and despite its bristling rage its also a record filled with love and positivity, that’s musically a lot more progressive and courageous than its beat poetry core might lead you to believe. In a world where it too often seems that many artists the width of the commercially successful spectrum have little to say and no real ideas behind their creations at all, Blackburn is a breath of fresh air, deserves all the money you should through at him to own this record, and has all the potential in the world to become the most important musical voice for so many people.
59 DMX: It’s Dark and Hell is Hot
Awwww, that was a bummer, wasn’t it? Unfairly overshadowed by the well overdue death of some billion year old racist landowner, the April 9th death at 50 years old of legitimately one of modern hip-hops most influential voices was one of the year’s more notable. Complications relating to a heart attack after massive cocaine consumption though? Come on, isn’t that how we all want to go? And isn’t fifty close to the maximum age where life is really worth living? Seriously, who wants to live much past that age? You’d still need to work, you know? Fuck that shit sideways.
Having never been previously considered in Necessary Evil, with me always considering him more of an outstanding singles act (on some days, I’d actually say Party Up (Up in Here) is my favourite ever song), I thought it would be appropriate to give Earl Simmons his debut with the 1998 debut most consider his masterpiece.
And, fuck me, I’m getting old ‘It’s Dark And Hell Is Hot’ is a lot. Violent, loud, unforgiving, not just impossible to ignore but impossible to even relax to. It’s an astonishingly abrasive artistic achievement, but as a fat white man in his, erm, really late 20s (so late that I’ve actually over ran over the counter and went back down to 20 again, and I’m currently at 27 for the second time) it can often be an overwhelming and, gosh, so darn unpleasant listen. We can talk for days about what an unflinchingly accurate depiction of DMX’s brutal upbringing it may be, but the fantasies of Simmons breaking into someone’s house and raping the owner’s 14 year old daughter eventually become a bit of an emotional strain. It’s quite a ride, but the seatbelts are falling apart and the two people either side of you keep punching you in the face. And then raping you. I’m not sure many other artists manage to marry such unflinching horror with morbid listenability.
My boy Helltown! Once again, I’m pretty sure that I’m the only person in the world who bought this album(see that solitary photo under the list of fans who ‘supported’ the release? Yeah, that’s me), and the lowkey genius who has been responsible for some of the greatest singer/songwriter acoustic ‘bedroom bullshit’ (his own words) seems to have deleted all of his socials recently, so there’s a chance he might never even know how highly his biggest/only fan rates his latest EP. Shit, do you think he’s dead? That’d be a bummer. Unlikely though, right? People don’t tend to have their social accounts removed when hey die, they just lie untouched forever, making all of social media a creepy graveyard of past nonsense. Roughly 37% of all your Facebook friends? Yeah, dead. Including your Mum. Sorry, I’ve been meaning to tell you, but been super busy this past eight months. The funeral was a complete bust. Anyway, if he’s dead he’ll be able to tell DMX in heaven/hell that his latest expanse into ever more electronic and synthesised magic is officially a better album than the rapper’s 1998 debut.
57 Miley Cyrus: Plastic Hearts
Yeah, Miley’s back, and back on the list, because as I have always maintained I am a proud and unashamed ‘Smiler’. Well… a bit of shame, admittedly…
Actually released back in late November 2020, so technically just about not eligible for the 2021 list (which, as I keep infuriatingly clarifying, is from December of the year before to November of the current year), but I’m always in danger in missing out on these exploitative and cynical pre-Christmas Big Pop releases that aren’t patient enough to hold off until a December release if I don’t bend the rules ever so slightly here and there. Oh, what’s that, Adele, you just happened to finish your new album just in time for a dreaded 19th November release?? Fine, but I really don’t have time for that shit, I’ll stick you on the list for Necessary Evil 2022. If I can download a torrent of it, I’m not paying money, you’ve got more than enough.
‘Plastic Hearts’ though, is kind of perfect. Like, it’s not a perfect album by any means – it’s the 57th best album of the year for goodness sake – but it sees the great work that Miley started to properly polish on 2019’s brilliant ‘She is Coming’ (tee-hee! Like an orgasm! And it’s really funny because I’m pretty sure though personal experience that women don’t have those). ‘Plastic Hearts’ is an even greater amalgamation of Miley’s teenie bob concerns of praising the lord while she yearns for boys while lying on the hood of her Papa’s truck, and her equally forced ‘adult’ themes of undercarriages and hanky panky. Also, there is no song on ‘Plastic Hearts’ anywhere near as horrendous a Catitude, so that’s an important evolution.
56 Jordana & TV Girl: Summer’s Over
(2020 #59 (Jordana))
Seriously though, this is a record almost ridiculously brimming with summer vibes and paeans to the malignant melanoma those sun rays are happily riddling your skin with. ‘Summer’s Over’ brings to mind those bouncy summer tunes that appeared as a strange counterpoint to nu-metal in the early 00s, it’s like a delightful bedroom poppy take on Steal My Sunshine, All Star, Drinking in LA and, good lord, even How Bizarre by OMC. Try not to think about how that OMC era defining classic was released way back in 1996 and quite likely before either of the geniuses responsible for this lovely piece of work were even born. What have you done with your life so far? That’s right, you once got 28 upvotes on a Reddit post calling a thirteen year old’s TikTok video ‘uber cringe’. I’m sure your mother’s so proud. In fact, I’m sure both Jordana and TV Girl were so lost in the magic of creating such a small scale classic, so inspired by the sun’s rays that they just immediately retreated to an underground and windowless studio to capture the moment. It was only when they emerged from their intense and ketamine fuelled (probably. Right?) artistic orgy and realised that it was no October that a urgent renaming of the record was required (it was originally titled ‘Hit the Beaches, Bitches!!’).
Quick word on Jordana – this won’t be the last you hear of her, she had an outstanding 2021, including another album entry higher up this list and maybe five contributions to the year’s best songs. Start tying yourselves to that particular mask, trust me.
Hey, Weavo, did it hurt?
When you fell from heaven? Huh?
Oh, and also, did it hurt when you fell forty six places down the list since your 2017 masterpiece ‘Modern Cosmology’? Because, seriously, that has to hurt a bit, no? ‘Flock’ is a great album, but it feels altogether less expansive and more happy in its shell than her previous album’s unrepressed ambition. ‘Flock’ is an album happy to paint its own house in the most wonderful explosions of colour imaginable, whereas that previous album was only satisfied when the entire neighbourhood was carpet bombed with rainbow paints. The house that ‘Flock’ has pained is still absolutely gorgeous, it’s just difficult to not look out of the window and imagine how the cul de sac would look after it was also detonated with similar magic.
Oh, and also, did it hurt when all of those birdhouses fell out of the trees around you? It looks like they missed you by millimetres.
54 Dan Deacon: Mystic Familiar
Fuck, I really missed the boat with this. Deacon’s previous album, the absolutely mind expanding ‘Gliss Riffer’, was and is one of the greatest electronic based albums I had and have heard in a minute or so. The follow up has been eagerly awaited ever since, but since I never thought of following Deacon on BandCamp, and the lamestream media largely didn’t feel fit to cover the release of his next studio album (he does a lot of soundtrack work but, seriously, who has time for that?), I only found out about this January 2020 release at the start of this year, mainly because musical journalist obviously way more tuned in than I named it amongst their year’s best. But, only 23 months later, here it is! You can stop leaving tearful messages on my answerphone now, Dan. Listen, you keep forgetting the time difference! When you’re out drowning your sorrows at Five Guys on a late Tuesday afternoon it can be past midnight here! I’m not ignoring your calls, I’m often just asleep!
‘Mystic Familiar’ shares much of the infectious energy and enchanting likeability of ‘Gliss Riffer’, and once again there’s a guarantee that you will fall in love with and soundtracked by this album to at least some degree. It ends up being an ever so inferior piece of work because, almost counterintuitively, Deacon seems more concerned with crafting largely recognisable songs from his buoyant sonic ideas. Almost all of the songs on ‘Mystic Familiar’ with a vocal singing to a clear melody and song structure would sound better without, and I often get the feeling that the sounds ae being encased in a needless cage, tied to ropes that constrain them into a boring old fashioned song structure when I really wanna hear those motherfuckers fly.
53 Lindsay Munroe: Softest Edge
Hey, this is pretty fucking great.
It’s simply a four song EP from Manchester’s Munroe, so there’s an obvious legal limit on how high I can place the fourteen minute collection. Yeah, sure, Tierra Whack’s ‘Whack World‘ was only fifteen minutes long and reached number four in 2018, but… that was different… Listen, let’s not reopen that age old debate over who’s better between Tierra Whack and Lindsay Munroe, don’t you think our country is divided enough??
‘Softest Edge’ is such an outstanding musical evolution from Munroe’s previous collection. The music echoes like it were performed in an empty Albert Hall, the songs build and soar like three minute suites, each guitar crunches better and each drum snaps more satisfyingly so like Munroe has imply deep fried each instrument for that little bit longer. The songs are meatier and demand to be gorged upon raw and bloody, where they previously politely requested your attention and suggested maybe a pinch of salt and some barbeque sauce. Shut up, I know exactly where I’m going with these metaphors. Her voice is clearer and more confident, and seemingly higher up in the mix so that Munroe’s way with a killer line such as ‘I would have been a martyr to your cause/If you believed in anything at all’ or ‘I don’t feel safe in my skin/Since I let you in’ are even easier to appreciate. Also, bit Manicy, those lines, yeah? No? Shut the fuck up, I’ll see what I wanna see, you’re not the boss of me. Drop everything, give me a full album, show similar bravery with darker lyrical themes, release it the same year as Tierra Whack’s next album and let’s settle this bloody debate once and for all. Enough innocent people have died. None. Nobody has died. Are you saying that isn’t enough??
Also, Need a Ride is absolutely filthy. More of that, obviously.
52 Tommy Genesis: goldilocks x
Selfish, secretive, possessive, condescending
Even when I cum, I’m pretending.”men
I don’t need to try and convince you how amazing Tommy Genesis is. Look at those fucking boots she’s wearing on the album cover! Fuck me dead and bury me pregnant! Where did she get those?! I want I want I want!
She’s an artist that, almost unbelievably, actually deserves those boots though. Honestly one of the most wonderfully singular and captivating artists working in 2021. She has christened her particular style ‘fetish rap’, which honestly nobody else is anyway near smart enough it label it anything else anyway near as perfect. Her songs are all squirts and pokes and juices and spanks and squeaks and shakes and similar. ‘goldilocks x’ starts off by detailing the kind of pain you’re more than willing to suffer, before in the final third concentrating more on the less appreciated pain of relationships covered in less fun tracks such as fuck u u know u can’t make me cry. One issue that Tommy has at this early stage of her career is the whiplash between these far more emotionally vulnerable and serious songs and the unashamed queer ostentation of two thirds of her songs simply asking if someone can make her ‘wet, wet, wet, wet, wet’.
Tommy Genesis’s absolute stardom has been obvious to me ever since her star making turn on JPEGMAFIA’s ROUGH 7 was officially the 31st best song of 2019, but the problem remains with ‘goldilocks x’ that her gigantic it factor is currently still too big to be contained within such an archaic concept as an ‘album’. ROUGH 7 still remains the truest and closest representation of the magic she’s capable of. ‘goldilocks x’ is brilliant, but it’s not quite the world licking success that she’s capable and worth of. It’s still early days though, and by God am I going to enjoy the ride.
51 Gruff Rhys: Seeking New Gods
Absolutely not fetish rap, but by God how lucky are we to be allowed to exist at the same time as (and, if we’re really lucky, relatively close geographic proximity to) Gruff Rhys? This album is amazing, because of course it’s amazing. Bow down.
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