Albums Of The Year: Arlo Parks, Black Country New Road, Sons of Kemet, Little Simz and Dry Cleaning

The end of the year is drawing closer, so it's time to look at some more of The Mic's Albums Of The Year 2021. In our third sneak peak of the forthcoming full list, read about albums from Arlo Parks, Black Country New Road, Sons of Kemet, Little Simz and Dry Cleaning.

Collapsed in Sunbeams - Arlo Parks

Arlo Parks’ Collapsed in Sunbeams has been a real comfort album for me this year. Released in January, the masterpiece grew to be my most loyal companion on otherwise bleak lockdown walks. Her honest depiction of mental health, for instance, seemed to come at the perfect time. Single Hope proved to hold an unanticipated relevance when released, and the chorus’ repeated "You’re not alone like you think you are" soon became an encouragement that I clung to. Fast-forward ten months down the line, I am still infatuated with this iconic debut. The album’s interweaving of spoken word really sets it apart from the rest for me; the singer-songwriter’s stunning way with words is evident straight from the poetry recital that opens the album. Parks’ sincere lyrics are a true asset to Collapsed in Sunbeams and her depiction of lived experience continues to be appreciated by many. It is no wonder Arlo took home the Hyundai Mercury Prize with this masterpiece earlier in the year. Rhianna Greensmith

For the first time - Black Country, New Road

For the first time is the debut album and masterpiece of London seven-piece Black Country, New Road. The album is predominantly made up of long, emotionally intense tracks with multiple contrasting sections. The band differentiate themselves from their rock contemporaries in their klezmer influenced instrumentals and tortured vocal delivery. They’re frequently dubbed as this generations’ Slint, a 90s ‘anti-rock’ rock band, but I believe Black Country, New Road are doing something altogether more special. On For the first time, climaxes like that of Science Fair, Opus and Sunglasses are so intensely energising, you’ll wish you could play more than one air-instrument at once. It’s been far too long since music was this exciting. Sunglasses is, for me, the finest of an incredible run of tracks. Both a twisted coming of age story and an anthem for the introspective, lead vocalist Isaac Wood’s lyrics on the track are a combination of specific, absurd and relatable. “I'm looking at you and you cannot tell I am more than the sum of my parts” says so much in so few words - capturing a longing for deeper relationships and understanding so beautifully. Yet, this is just one poignant moment of one track on an album crammed with genius. It’s simply immense. Elliot Fox

Black to the Future - Sons of Kemet

This is an album that reaches far beyond the world of jazz. The message is compelling, and the music is hypnotic and exhilarating. Sons of Kemet are a group formed by London jazz musician Shabaka Hutchings, consisting of two drummers, a tuba and a tenor saxophone. The rhythmic grounding of the tuba and drums creates an infectious base for the songs, on top of which Shabaka can play free flowing melodies and powerful staccato blows, which create a frantic and helpless sound. Sons of Kemet’s music has always had hip-hop undertones and here, those sounds are more visible than ever before. The features from D Double E, Kojey Radical as well as the spoken word poets Moor Mother and Joshua Idehan really force the listener to acknowledge the message of the album. This is a concept album focusing in on the oppression felt against the black community, as well as exploring themes of harnessing anger, sorrow and Afrofuturism. Written in the wake of George Floyd’s tragic death and the BLM protests, it is clear to see where a lot of this passion and anger came from. While being progressive in many ways, this album still manages to be accessible and enjoyable. The music is matched perfectly with the strong message that is being conveyed. Sons of Kemet have made one incredible album, but no words will do it justice, so I urge you to give it a listen. Leo Bungay

Sometimes I Might be Introvert - Little Simz

Released this September, Sometimes I Might be Introvert is Little Simz’s strongest and most innovative body of work yet. Down to its versatility, productive quality and storytelling ability, Simz’s heart and soul can be felt throughout her art. It is difficult to place a singular track in the limelight, as the album as a collective piece works so well together - from the rhythmic, enthralling songs Introvert and Point and Kill, to smoother tunes accompanied with warm, melodious vocals such as I See You and How Did You Get Here. My personal favourites have to be Woman, which is nothing short of a feel-good, uplifting anthem of black womanhood, the pensive song I love you, I hate you, which Simz herself describes as one of the most conflicting yet freeing songs for her to write, and last but not least Miss Understood, a reflective, soul-stirring outro. Dubbed by listeners as the best thing to happen to hip hop since Lauryn Hill, Little Simz has rightfully claimed her throne as a “real life Queen in the flesh”, with Sometimes I Might be Introvert generating a buzz of excitement for the future legacy of the British female-dominated rap scene. Ingrid Allirajah

New Long Leg - Dry Cleaning

Of all the great music to be released over these strange and twisted past 12 months, the debut album from the eccentric post-punk outfit Dry Cleaning is my absolute album of the year. Intriguing and addictive, I’ve simply never heard anything quite like it, as the deadpan and drawling spoken word of frontwoman Florence Shaw is paired with the mesmeric, churning riffs of her fellow band members. Shaw articulates mundane aspects of British life and the unacknowledged thoughts that flit through our shared consciousnesses, her vocals used as much for a lyrical delivery as they are a rhythmic one. Her sentences are punctuated with purposeful gaps and onomatopoeic words, creating a soundscape of bizarre one-liners and nonsensical phrases, such as in lead single Scratchcard Lanyard, the chorus making perfect sense while also somehow making none at all. Hypnotic and undulating, New Long Leg is a sensory overload of words and concepts which grows in clarity as it grows in familiarity; the more you listen, the more cohesive and enjoyable it becomes as a body of music. It is perhaps not an easy listen at first, but once the dextrous combination of the music and the apathetic, meandering lyrics clicks in your brain (and in your ears), it is utterly impossible to resist. Freya Saulsbury Martin


Edited by: Gemma Cockrell and Joe Hughes

Featured image courtesy of Arlo Parks via Facebook.