5) Hollow Coves – Blessings
-I rarely put EPs on this list, so you know if this one is in the top five that it has to be good. Well, it’s not good — it’s AMAZING. This is a breathtakingly beautiful piece of work. The songwriting on each of these tracks is impressive. I appreciate the production balance which allows the guitar artistry and gorgeous vocals to permeate through each unique song. I often recommend my favorite one or two tracks off of an album, but I can’t do that on this album. You need to listen to all five. They are all so good. “Hello” was the one that caught my attention, but the entire album is full of beautiful guitar and vocal work that is quintessential modern folk music. If you like Sleeping at Last or the Oh Hellos, you’ll find a lot to like about the work of Hollow Coves.
4) dodie – Build a Problem
-The artist Dodie Clark is one of my favorites. There’s a whole back story about dodie’s rise to fame on YouTube, but here I just want to focus on this incredible album that was forged over time and ended up a 2021 release only because of 2020’s disasters. There’s a depth to the songwriting that comes from the mind of someone I am convinced is actually genius. I don’t know if I am biased because I’ve been following dodie’s very transparent creative process for many years, but this album is the most amazing thing she has produced to date. In addition to 14 indie pop folk tracks on the main disc, there’s a second side that provides the demos of the songs. It’s actually one of those demos, “One last time please” that is my favorite on the album. It will certainly be on my song of the year list. Additionally, if you’re looking for the ukelele-driven, lyrically satisfying, melodically infectious music that is common for dodie, check out, “I kissed someone (it wasn’t you)” and “Cool girl.” I don’t think dodie wrote this music for late 30s suburban dads, but I have to say that it really works for me and I challenge all music fans to consider these creative indie pop gems.
3) Morningbird – In your own words
-Morningbird are my favorite indie rock band currently. Full stop. There’s a reason they are the only pure rock act on this top 10 list. If you listen to the opening track “That’s alright” you will quickly hear why I love them; the vocal harmonies are exceptional, the lead vocal is quality, and the lyrics are relatable. I appreciate that the tracks all have good guitar work and some clever mixes of blues with more traditional straight rock. The production on each track is really well balanced, allowing for a ton of energy while keeping the vocal and lyric line easy to follow. It’s a no-skip album for me, but if you only have time for a few you have to check out “That’s alright” and “Who knew.” I kept coming back to this album this year and it will be one that I continue to connect with the year 2021 for a long time.
2) Adam Melchor – Lullaby Hotline Vol. 1
-I believe that Adam Melchor is a generational talent songwriter with a penchant for expressive lyricism and delicious melodies. It’s never fair to compare a folk artist to Bob Dylan, but more than Melchor’s curly hair draws parallels to the great Dylan. His songwriting is full of lyrical complexity, poetic detail, and a sense of melody that feels immediately classic. Melchor has a style that draws from other artists but is all his own. It’s impossible for me to pick just a few tracks on this incredible album for you to hear. Listen to them all. The first time I heard “Moon in the Morning” I couldn’t stop listening to it. The vocal mix on the track is absolutely fantastic. The feel-good energy of “Begin Again” is matched by the clever lyrics about learning from mistakes. Some of the tracks feel like classic folk tunes, others more contemporary indie folk, but the genre conventions don’t even matter here; at the end of the day, Melchor is about writing memorable songs with great melodies and lyrics that make you feel something deep inside. There are no tracks to skip. Spin the whole dang thing. It’s so good.
1) Olivia Ellen Lloyd – Loose Cannon
-I found this album early in 2021 and knew it was going to win my album of the year. And let me tell you this album EARNED that title. If it was a physical vinyl copy, it’d be worn out. I have listened this album start to finish more times this year than I care to admit. I don’t quite know how to put this into words, but I’ll give it my best. I feel something familial when I listen to Olivia Ellen Lloyd. We’re from the same stock. We’re cut from the same cloth, as they might say in the hills we grew up in. It’s 200 miles from where I grew up to Shepherdstown, WV but I’ll be darned if it’s not the same people and the same “place.” That connection around hard work and hard livin’ resonates powerfully. I’m pretty sure “Emily” was the first song I heard off of this album and I loved it right away. There’s a genuine love in the song that comes through in Lloyd’s thoughtful lyrics and delivery. If I had to recommend two songs, I’d say listen to “River Run” and “In the Valley.” In fact, I don’t even think “In the Valley” is an option; if you’re an Americana fan you absolutely have to listen to it. Every roots, alt country, and folk radio station from Maine to Mississippi should be playing this song. This album is a classic and one that I will hold close to my heart forever. I can’t wait to meet Olivia Ellen Lloyd some day but I will put this one caveat out there. She’s not allowed to call me out when I sit in the back of the venue and cry at half of the tracks. They’re just that good.