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U92's Best of 2021: Part Three

8. Turnstile - GLOW ON

With GLOW ON, the Baltimore based hardcore group Turnstile come through with their best and most fully-realized work yet. Turnstile has been cranking out some of the most melodic hardcore you can put your ear to for the better part of a decade now, however, their newest is a significant moment in the realm of heavy music for just how forward thinking, tuneful, and instant the album has proved to be. Throughout GLOW ON the band notably toys with genre play- incorporating elements of dream pop, shoegaze, and even R&B in sparse measures (the album features the bands first ever collaboration with Dev Hynes A.K.A Blood Orange) while still remaining bleedingly faithful to their hardcore roots. A breakthrough album for not just the band but the genre, GLOW ON is a testament to how complex heavy music can be both musically and emotionally. 

- Griffin McMorrow 

Cassandra Jenkins7. Cassandra Jenkins - An Overview on Phenomenal Nature

“So these are real things that happened”, begins a spoken-word introduction on lead single “Hard Drive”, “Where you can apply these important concepts, and understand that when we lose our connection to nature we lose our spirit, our humanity, our sense of self.” By the end of An Overview on Phenomenal Nature, the listener is left unsure whether or not this is a sentiment Cassandra Jenkins actually agrees with, it may be that she doesn’t even know herself. Indeed, this album is one full of contradictions, half truths, half-remembered conversations, and metaphors more concerned with feeling true than being true. Such things would be detrimental in the hands of a lesser songwriter, but on Phenomenal Nature Jenkins uses these complexities to craft a vignette of loss and healing built on intimately woven, dreamlike and impressionistic stories and soundscapes. That, then, is the more important part of the sentiment which kicks off “Hard Drive” when the speaker (who, by the sounds of it, may or may not have realized they were even being recorded) insists “these are real things that happened”. Throughout the best and most inspired moments of it’s runtime that is the prevailing truth of Phenomenal Nature, these are real things that happen- here they are portrayed in their most honest form. 

- Griffin McMorrow

Little Simz - Sometimes I Might Be Introvert6. Little Simz - Sometimes I Might Be Introvert

Triumphant and cinematic. Grand and powerful. Declarative and intimate. A grand accomplishment that deserves every bit of praise it gets, tenfold. Little Simz comes out of the gate making an entrance for the ages with a career defining opening track. ‘Introvert’ sets the tone of the record to perfection with a beat which could justifiably be called epic (those strings and horns are unparalleled) and cutthroat verse after cutthroat verse. From that point on Simz paints a beautiful, moving, and inspiring audio-memoir detailing her life, her family, her womanhood, and her career in painstakingly acute and eloquent prose. Simz is an artist that keeps the roots, the essence, and the soul of the genre at the forefront of her music, that fact shines through in this new record more than anything else. Not one moment is wasted. And every detail is savored of its importance. Sometimes I Might Be Introvert is a powerful showcase of hip hop’s importance to art and expression.

- Tristen Rodriguez

Japanese Breakfast - Jubilee5. Japanese Breakfast - Jubilee

To those paying attention, 2021 was the year of Michelle Zauner. The mastermind behind the indie act Japanese Breakfast, Zauner released a best selling memoir and an award winning video game soundtrack. However, it was her stunning album Jubilee that acted as a unique culmination not just of her work throughout the year, but as the most revelatory breakthrough moment of her creative career so far. Zauner said about the album, "After spending the last five years writing about grief, I wanted our follow up to be about joy". This came not only with a change in lyricism but a significant shift in sound. On Jubilee Zauner sheds all lo-fi, shoegaze, or indie rock inspiration to shift focus solely on her pop songwriting. The way she takes on these sounds is totally unique as well, this album isn’t just a pastiche of 80’s pop, it's not just an hook heavy dream pop album, it’s not just following in the footsteps of recent alt-pop wunderkinds like Carly Rae Jepsen, or Jack Stauber, or Charli XCX. Rather it takes elements from all of these sounds and pushes them forward to create a more transformative and complete listen. More musically and lyrically complex than Zauner’s previous releases with Japanese Breakfast, this project bleeds ambition all while sticking to an earworm-y pop format, making for Zauner’s most deceptively mature release yet. 

- Griffin McMorrow

Black Midi - Cavalcade4. black midi. - Cavalcade

These English art-rockers first started making noise as black midi. with  a string of successful and acclaimed live performances whose resulting album (2019’s Schlangenheim) would prove to be an undeniably fresh and influential high water-mark among the already bustling modern post-punk scene. Needless to say, the band had their work cut out for them when crafting a follow-up. Luckily, their newest full length “Cavalcade” more than rises to the occasion, expanding upon their sound while keeping the inspired adventurous streak that made the band so standout in the first place. The band notably took a more premeditated approach to the writing and recording on the record, as opposed to the improvisational approach taken for their debut. This results in a record that is more meditative bringing the bands free-jazz influence and avant garde experimentation into the spotlight; this remains true for understated acoustic jams (“Marlene Dietrich”) or more familiarly dizzying, angular, and anxious rockers (“John L”). Overall on Cavalcade, black midi. smooth down the edges for a more considered and lush approach to songwriting that prove this band is far more than a flash in the pan. -Griffin McMorrow


Riding the fine line between experimental and accessible. LP! stands as a testament to keeping true to your art and expressing your thoughts, feelings, opinions, and emotions through music, a practice which JPEGMAFIA has been fine tuning over the past 5 years that  comes to a head on his sprawling fourth studio album. LP! pulls no punches with regards to its uniquely outlandish collage of sound that, despite all odds, interlock and work perfectly together to create a project which remains uniquely listenable despite its uncompromising vision. Peggy’s delivery is as chaotic and energetic with beats that stand as  some of his most stupefying and memorable so far. Just listen to a track like “HAZARD DUTY PAY!” for proof of concept. Years of experimentation and sonic exploration have made for an MC and producer with nothing left to prove. LP! then, sees Peggy flexing his creative muscles simply to showcase to all of his contemporaries why exactly he remains one of the best in the game currently.
 - Tristen Rodriguez

Lingua Ignota - SINNER GET READY
2. Lingua Ignota - SINNER GET READY

Haunting, beautiful, spiritual, and soul piercing. Without pomp and circumstance, Kristin Hayter’s SINNER GET READY is the most surreal and harrowing listening experience of the year. Words cannot aptly describe the sheer power and emotion that is ingrained in each song on this project. Seldom does a record have the ability to leave a listener  not only speechless or moved, but transformed. Seldom does a record have the ability not only to captivate the listener, but overwhelm with its sheer brilliance. This is one of those rare records that is a totally transmogrifying experience. Inspired sonically and lyrically by the landscape and history of rural Pennsylvania where she lived for the majority of the albums recording sessions- Hayter continues to mine her own personal trauma as a survivor of domestic violence as well as religious inspiration which has been a consistent theme in her work to pen this powerful set of anthems which are equal parts empowering and brutalizing. On SINNER GET READY Hayter abandons the harsh noise, industrial assets, and vocal wallows that detailed the cacophony of her last album, instead creating a wall of sound with rugged acoustic instrumentation and stacked vocals which, according to interviews, were left intentionally imperfect at various points to create a feeling that is at once more dissonant and raw. Perhaps appropriately for her artistic namesake, Hayter’s music as Lingua Ignota isn’t the sort of thing whose feeling and power can be summed up so succinctly with words alone, it’s so guttural and devastating that it must be experienced- if you can stomach it.

 - Tristen Rodriguez and Griffin McMorrow

Injury Reserve - By the Time I Get to Phoenix1. Injury Reserve - By the Time I Get to Phoenix

The Arizona-based groups second studio album By the Time I Get To Phoenix is a mind altering and one of a kind tribute to late member Stepa J. Groggs. The sounds on this album are not only unconventional, but largely undefinable, and necessarily require some amount of history to appreciate in full. While touring in Europe after the release of their self-titled 2019 album, the group performed an improvised DJ set remixing their songs to create a new avant-garde style; at one point in the set, the group remixed Isaac Hayes’ "By the Time I Get to Phoenix", creating what would go on to become the lead single, "Superman That". Inspired by the set, the group decided to pursue this avant-garde and experimental direction. However, personal tragedy would strike when bandmate, Stepa J. Groggs passed away halfway through the year. With the album nearly finished, the group went on a brief two-month hiatus following his passing before reconvening to complete the remainder of the album. It can not be understated how deeply Groggs' passing affected the group as well as the sound of this record- the group's remaining members (producer Parker Corey as well as Ritchie) opted to make the record as uncompromising as possible in honor of Groggs. Due to the intimate portrayal of grief which this album necessarily encapsulates, Ritchie’s writing ventures away from the typical verse-chorus structure with most songs lacking a chorus, hook, or bridge to create friction and tension. In response to this lyrical content, Corey’s production embraces a more deconstructed, dissonant sound. Abandoning any semblance of tradition or convention in comparison to the group's previous releases. On By the Time I Get to Phoenix, Injury Reserve revolutionize an almost “post-rap” sound. Whether or not you buy into that definition of genre, it’s hard to listen to the abstract, hectic, radical and uniquely inspired epic pontification on grief and chaos that is this album and not feel like you are listening to something that is altogether new and wholly without compare

 -Griffin McMorrow

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