The Guardian Indie

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  1. Emerging star Arlo Parks attends to the mental burdens of hard times – with a hook, as we count down one LP per day to the best album of the year

    This list is drawn from votes by Guardian music critics – each critic votes for their Top 20 albums, with points allocated for each placing. Check in every weekday to see our next picks, and please share your own favourite albums of 2021 in the comments below.

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  2. A stunning debut emerged from the darkness of lockdown to win the London newcomer chart success and a well-deserved Mercury prize

    As the beginning of 2021 marked almost a full year of the pandemic, lockdowns and social distancing, many of us were experiencing some sort of impact on our mental health. So when Arlo Parks released her debut album, Collapsed in Sunbeams, in January, she found herself chiming with universal concerns. Addressing issues that had been triggered or exacerbated by Covid stresses and lives stuck inside four walls, be they unrequited desire, sexuality issues, poor body image, prejudice, betrayal or depression, Parks emerged as an empathic, comforting voice.

    Articulating listeners’ anxieties has always been central to pop but few have managed it in such an authentic, genuine and timely way. Almost half a century after David Bowie threw a lifeline to a confused generation with Rock’n’Roll Suicide’s “Oh no love, you’re not alone”, Parks offered a concerned hand to the Covid-19 cohort with her song Hope: “We all have scars / I know it’s hard / You’re not alone like you think you are.”

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  3. (Bella Union)
    Jack Cooper swerves the cliches with this transporting, melodic album, adding free jazz to a treasure trove of ideas

    The second album from Modern Nature – a project helmed by Blackpool-born musician Jack Cooper, previously of indie duo Ultimate Painting – is designed to leave its audience awed. Noodling instrumentation, reverent silence, vaguely mystical lyrics and almost-whispered vocals all gesture towards profundity – as does the album’s conceit, with Cooper using The Tempest as a springboard for thoughts about a fictional island of his own. It also makes use of the talents of free jazz stars, namely saxophonist Evan Parker and pianist Alexander Hawkins. Island of Noise, in other words, has all the signifiers of a very serious and very worthy creative endeavour.

    It might have proved irritatingly pretentious were the end product not quite so mesmerising: abstract enough to spark the imagination, straightforwardly melodic enough to hold the attention. The emotional register is both hopeful and melancholic; the space both minimal and dense – tracks such as Ariel envelop without overwhelming. There are moments, especially when the island’s weather and wildlife are invoked in a more literal way, when it feels as if the album could be put to work as a meditation soundtrack – but it is, ultimately, too compelling for that.

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  4. With songs about jellybeans and feline transformations, the Osaka band brought joy and fun to a serious punk-rock scene. After decades of cult hits, frontwoman Naoko Yamano explains why she wants to end up the world’s oldest rock star

    Very few rock bands make it to 40 years. And for Shonen Knife, this landmark seems all the more unlikely – there haven’t been many all-women rock bands from Japan who turned their obsession with junk food, cute animals and Ramones into an international career.

    Their breakthrough came with 1992’s Let’s Knife, released in Britain by Creation Records shortly after a career-changing tour with Nirvana. It was a punk album like no other, featuring lyrical observations on the envy frontwoman Naoko Yamano felt for exotic American girls with blond hair and blue eyes, alongside pontification on life’s more frivolous joys: eating jellybeans, riding a bicycle, fishing for black bass, and – rather less relatably – becoming a cat and growing whiskers.

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  5. ‘I’m completely happy that we fall within the noble tradition of the one-hit wonder in the UK’

    We had played the showcase night at New York’s CBGB, but didn’t stand out, so we tried instead playing alongside performance artists in East Village. People showing up to watch avant garde performance art bought our cassette, and we became part of this groovy little scene of really enthusiastic people.

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