Artists around the world had to suffer another year in the wake of the worst pandemic the world has seen since the Spanish Flu. Although the world opened a little, concerts and festivals by the thousands were cancelled in 2021, and many venues had to keep doors closed for the usual crowds of music lovers. Even so, struggling artists managed to write, compose, and publish new music despite. They all earned our praise and respect.
Here’s some of the albums, we at Latebar spent time listening to during the past year – including one, earning the dubious title of “Latebar’s Album of the Year 2021”.
Smith & Thell – “Pixie’s Parasol”
We’ve been keeping an eye (or ear) to the east for quite some time now. While Canadian cover-supremes ‘Walk off the Earth’ flattened Earth with their almost supernatural craft and skill, swedes Maria Jane Smith and Victor Thell were building their own platform of immensely melodic poetry.
Their first album ‘Soulprints‘ came out in 2017 and it immediately caught the ear of of this blogger, who – truth be told – mistook the duo for their Canadian colleagues. But listening to the lyrics the distinction became clear right away. Not only do ‘Smith & Thell‘ write their own brilliant songs, they also write perky and sometime even snarky lyrics with a kick-ass attitude under their seemingly sweet and innocent surface. This is original!
With their 2021 album “Pixie’s Parasol“, they’ve kept on developing their folkish sound and unique take on good pop music with a surplus of attentive and meaningful lyrics. If Smith & Tell are new to you, then give ‘Radioactive Rain‘, ‘Year of the Young‘, ‘Forgive Me Friend‘ or ‘Nangilima‘ 15 minutes of your day. Then realize, that you’ve only just listened to the first four songs of the album. Utterly impressive kick-off, eh?
With their second album out, the two Swedes have established themselves as the next big thing to come out of Scandinavia. Maria and Victor already have enough songs and a surplus of sway to ignite any party at any serious festival in 2022. So get up and get out there!
Smith & Tell – “Pixie’s Parasol” – released: 5 February 2021
Nice Little Penguins – “Beat Music vol. II”
One of the most interesting new productions from Denmark in 2021 was the long anticipated 8th studio album by pop legends Nice Little Penguins. Since their 1994 smash hit ‘Flying’ the trio – at some point a quartet – has returned to serving their core fan base with beautiful pop songs with instrumental substance and meaningful lyrics.
But, with their 2021 album it seems Bo Feierskov and the Kolster brothers (Michael and Carsten) are up to another round of heavy PA setup and pint-size lagers.
Despite the title, ‘Beat Music vol. II‘, this album bears no apparent resemblance to the trio’s 1993 debut, ‘Beat Music‘. At least not at first glance. Fans who’ve been with the band since the very beginning, however, will notice the care-free and no-frills sound has returned. A sense of truth and honesty sifts through the entire production, creating a feeling that (perhaps) hasn’t been fully present since the band’s debut almost 29 years ago.
Welcome back – we adore it here at Latebar!
As always with the Danish penguins, harmonic melodies and elegant vocal work forms the foundation under their overall sound. This albums is no exemption. This time around a bit more electric guitar is added to – we guess – underline the trio’s wish to claim independence and ownership of a sound, no other band in Denmark masters better.
We’ve listened a lot to this album during 2021 and find it to be the best since their 1993 debut. Brilliant!
You can read more about ‘Beat Music vol. II’ in the entry, ‘More Beat Music by Nice Little Penguins‘.
Nice Little Penguins – “Beat Music vol. II” – released: 9 April 2021
Thomas Bergersen – “Humanity III & IV”
Followers of this blog will know, that there’s room for all sorts of artists and genres here. From pop and rock to electronic, symphonic metal, as well as classical, folk, and jazz – you name it.
In recent years, we have followed the Norwegian composer and epic music creator, Thomas Bergersen, closely. In 2020 the then 40-year-old American resident and already experienced composer of music for major Hollywood productions (Twilight Saga, Harry Potter, Chronicles of Narnia etc.) ventured out on a journey. He wanted to explore humanity itself and everything that makes us human, and then express it in epic music.
He managed to release the first two of seven full albums in 2020 – before all hell broke loose in the world. Despite lock-down and a travel ban between Norway and his studios in Los Angeles, however, he managed to produce and finish the next two installments of the series – Humanity III and IV – during 2021. Bravo!
The first two was written in the context of turmoil – both in the US and in the world in general – and had themes like Freedom, Strength and Unity (Humanity I) and Togetherness and Unity (Humanity II) on the menu.
Moving from crisis into an even bigger crisis, Bergersen chose the theme ‘Love’ for the third volume in the series, and in a way the three first albums together form the set of human values required for humanity to move on. It features some of Bergersen’s usual production partners, such as fellow Norwegian Merethe Soltvedt and the wonderful The Voice contestant, Audrey Karrasch, both spellbinding singers and songwriters, adding just the right amount of fairy dust the recipe requires… manifested in some quite impressive vocal performances.
The fourth album ‘Humanity IV’ takes the human values from the previous three Humanity albums and convert them into actions. We find it an unfiltered tribute to human endeavor and a exploration in general – but obviously also to exploration of space especially.
Humanity IV is the preliminary climax of ingenuity for human kind as well as for Bergersen himself. This, for instance, manifests in the track ‘Cruising in Space‘, where vocal, instrumentation, and new tech comes together beautifully. It perhaps one of the best ever compositions by the Norwegian champion of epic music, and perhaps the most challenging song performances by Merethe Soltvedt. Awesome.
Thomas Bergersen works in several dimensions. Swinging from pure classical music to heavy rock guitars, while pushing new tech to invent new sounds without losing sight of his classical heritage (Edvard Grieg, Johan Svendson etc.). Making Soltvedt sing a duet with a synthetic alien is just one example. It’s bloody awesome!
Of course, Bergersen is on our annual playlist (again). Put your headphones on and dive into Humanity!
Thomas Bergersen – “Humanity III” – 6 May 2021
Thomas Bergersen – “Humanity IV” – 2 September 2021
Myles Kennedy – “The Ides of March”
One if the greatest rock-music writers and composer these days, blessed his fans with another album in 2021. ‘The Ides of March‘ was originally the ultimate due date in the Roman empire – the 74th day after new years and the last day to pay your tax. Now it is also a title of Boston-born rocker Myles Kennedy’s second album.
It follows up where the 2018 debut, ‘Year of The Tiger‘, left. With another 11 strong and excellently written compositions Kennedy earns his place among the absolute stars of the rock’n’roll scene. With everything from mandolins to distorted Nationals, Kennedy manages to fly freely through light, dark, warm, and cold without ever losing bearing or sense of overall feel and expression. That is why this album is, of course, on this list. It is all that!
Kennedy is also an man that has something important to say. It’s not just about wild parties and cool guitar licks. The song ‘Get Along‘ strikes right down between the heated – and sometimes hateful – conflicts politics, Covid-vaccinations or climate changes and spur. This track might just be the single most important song of 2021.
At Latebar, we absolutely adore Kennedy’s song-writing skills!
From the Bond-like title track, ‘The Ides of March‘, to the glammish country song ‘Moonshot‘, Kennedy excels with his amazing vocal work and his almost primordial sound. The entire production ooze of a grandiose surplus through and through.
If you are not yet familiar with Myles Kennedy, you can’t really call yourself a connoisseur of rock. At Latebar we feel terribly guilty for not attending to one of his live gigs yet – what we intend to change asap in 2022.
Myles Kennedy – “The Ides of March” – released: 14 May 2021
Johnny Flynn – “Lost in the Cedar Wood”
The 38-year-old British actor and folk singer-songwriter published his fifth studio album in 2021, and since his iconic theme for the awarding TV series ‘Detectorists‘ (highly recommendable too) in 2014, the only way seems to be up for the South African-born Flynn. ‘Lost in the Cedar Wood‘ is a refreshing piece of solid storytelling, based on the epic tale of Gilgamesh. Together with author Robert Macfarlane, Flynn interpreted the legend and produced a very catching 11-part collage of different parts of he story, starting with ‘Ten Degrees of Strange‘; a song about escaping grief, the title being coined from the actual tale.
Apart from being incredibly catchy, the album is very touching and honest too. Tracks like ‘The World to Come‘, ‘Tree Rings‘, and ‘Home and Dry‘ are obvious sing-along favorites, whereas a song like ‘Bonedigger‘ is a downright radio hit.
With Johnny Flynn you cannot escape the touch of melancholy belonging to British folk ballads. That said, not many balances this as well as Flynn. Listening to the album’s beautiful conclusion ‘Ferryman‘ only a cold heart of stone can escape a tear and the need for a comforting hug.
That is strong. In fact, ‘Lost in the Cedar Wood’ is a very strong contender to the title; Latebar’s Album of the Year 2021. If you haven’t heard it yet, we strongly encourage you to spend the 42 minutes it takes. We sure have quite few times during the past 8 months.
Experiencing Johnny Flynn live during 2022 sure is high on the list of priorities at Latebar.
Johnny Flynn – “Lost in the Cedar Wood” – released: 14 May 2021
Del Amitri – “Fatal Mistakes”
It has been almost to full decades since the five legendary Scotsmen last published new material. That’s seriously long hiatus, however, it doesn’t seem to have affected the quintet’s singer-songwriting abilities. The band’s seventh album ‘Fatal Mistakes‘ holds 13 absolutely fantastic and utterly distinct Del Amitri songs, that all deserve to be taken along to the live venues on future tour.
‘Fatal Mistakes’ ranked among the Top-5 most-listened new albums on Latebar in 2021… when it finally arrived. As described earlier on this blog, various production-related circumstances caused a delayed release. It was worth the wait!
Apart from the strong homely feeling imbuing the entire album, the band also manages to get some important messages across. First of all, the album is an overall declaration of love for the thousands of fans, who patiently stood by the band through all the years. The first two tracks ‘You Can’t Go Back‘ and ‘All Hail Blind Love‘ both can be interpreted as such, and they certainly feel like the warm hug of welcome home.
The album also covers deeper themes, such as desperation and losing the will to live. Topics that incidentally became ever so relevant as the pandemic closed the world and isolated friends and loved ones from each other. Songs like ‘I’m so Scared of Dying‘ and ‘Second Staircase‘ and the breathtaking ‘Lonely‘ all plays well into this context.
But, as always Del Amitri makes sure to leave audiences with hope, energy, and a smile (musicians and beer even). The song ‘Close Your Eyes and Think of England‘ is a more than snarky comment on Brexit and it leaves no doubt as to where the five Scotsmen stand on the matter.
All-in-all, Del Amitri is back, proving that you really CAN go back – or come back, at least.
Del Amitri – “Fatal Mistakes” – released: 28 May 2021
Toad The Wet Sprocket – “Starting Now”
Frequent readers of this blog knows just how big a star the California-based legends, Toad the Wet Sprocket, has around her. Their seventh studio album, ‘Starting Now‘, was released while the world seemed to have short break from the Covid-pandemic, and was we wrote earlier here at Latebar, the album truly is an elegant restart of the band’s signature sound and – perhaps – a reinstatement of its fame and glory.
Nothing on this album falls through and every detail and mix seems to have been carefully administered. It becomes blatantly clear in the song ‘The Best of Me‘, featuring the immaculate Michael McDonald. As always, McDonald elevates song quality by his mere presence, but not at all shadowing lead singer, Glen Phillips. In fact, the two supplement each other quite beautifully… Delete that… They bloody nailed it!
‘Starting Now’ – album as well as title track – seems like a therapeutic reconciliation and acceptance of the situation the band members have been through in the past years, including saying goodbye to founding member Randy Guss (drums) in the process. However, being the artists they are, they managed to channel it all in a way, fans can feel and understand.
In so many words, Toad the Wet Sprocket created one of the best pop/rock albums in the past decade. The fact that it was rolled out as result of an incredible crowdfunding event powered by the fans, just makes the production and result even more impressive.
‘Starting Now’ is the album we give to people we love. And if you give it to some you hate they will love you back.
Toad The Wet Sprocket – “Starting Now” – released: 27 August 2021
The Grenadines – “Everything We Dreamt Of”
It’s been some eight years since the Danish melody-maker Kasper Ejlerskov gathered three other musicians in a derelict farmhouse in Sweden and literally created the sound of ‘The Grenadines‘. During that session the four made 90% of what was to become the band’s first album – and boy it was a spectacular one.
Fast forward to 2021 – The band, now a trio, published its third album in September after spending the long Covid-19 lock-down reorganizing the band and refining 12 superior pop songs. Thumbs up!
For a band still eager to establish itself in the ever so noisy swarm of mayflies (figuratively), the album ‘Everything We Dreamt Of‘ came out just in the right time and at the right place. An isolated look at the Danish music scene in 2021 reveals nothing even came close to be as honest and clear-cut as Ejlerskov, Filipsen and Debannic. The trio succeeded in promoting hope, during a time where hope was hard to find, and despite the album’s retrospective title it shines rays of bright sunny light as far into the future the mind can see.
‘Everything We Dreamt Of‘ is probably the best pure-pop album to come out in Denmark in 2021, and likely one of the most interesting of all. Following the band almost since the beginning in 2014, we were expecting some well-composed songs and with a strong emphasis on delicate instrumentation and idiomatic lyrics delivered by equally elegant vocal performances…
… And ‘The Grenadines’ just delivers (again), and that with such apparent ease it seems noone had a pulse above 100 during the production. The fans, however, are left with beating hearts and the most sincere and moving 47 minutes of the year. Give the song ‘Holy Grail‘ 3-and-a-half minute of your life, or listen to the heart-breaking ballad ‘Catch Me‘, and it should be crystal clear what this band is all about.
We strongly encourage every reader of this blog to familiarize him- or herself with ‘The Grenadines‘ if you are not already a fan. With this album the band finally becomes part of the established scene in Denmark with a signature sound and with lead singer Morten Fillipsen where he belongs. Ace!
The Grenadines – “Everything We Dreamt Of” – released: 17 September 2021
Duran Duran – “Future Past”
Being the sole inspiration to the very name of this music blog, it can be no surprise to anyone, that we of course spent quite some time listening to British internationals ‘Duran Duran‘ during the second half of 2021.
Already in May the band released the first single ‘Invisible‘ accompanied by a futuristic collage created with an AI called Huxley – allegedly the first ever collaboration “between and machine“. The countdown was on, and once more the Brummies’ underlined their ability to surprise and create new art. Expectations went through the roof here at Latebar, naturally. And for good reason.
Duran Duran, “notorious” for constantly developing their sound, just did it again; made something new and never-heard-before. Name one other band to suddenly pull a Swedish dark-pop princess (Tove Lo), a German-born British influencer/YouTube sensation (Ivorian Doll), an all-female Japanese rock band (CHAI), and an utter legend, Mike Garson (David Bowie), into a production, just to challenge the status quo!? We effing love it <3
For decades, front man Simon Le Bon has electrified the crowds at live gigs by yelling “We are the outfit to make you party“, and listening to the band’s 15th installment you realize that it’s not just a claim – it’s a fact!
Although the ‘Future Past’ touches upon some rather serious themes, such as isolation and mortality, nothing will prevent the band’s 40th anniversary from being another party-galore with your best friends. Thanks for the invitation – we’ll be there!
We covered the album ‘Future Past‘ in the post ‘The Future Past of Duran Duran‘.
Duran Duran – “Future Past” – released: 22 October 2021
Electric Guitars – “Freewheeler”
We recently covered the fourth studio album by Danish guitar wizards, Electric Guitars, in the entry ‘Enjoying the Sound of Electric Guitars‘. The band’s two founding fathers, Mika Vandborg and Soren Andersen, spend their lock-down taking a step back… and then three forward.
In the beginning of November they presented their most wholesome production ever. The album ‘Freewheeler‘ is an unfiltered reaction to long-time isolation as well as cry-out to missing friends, summer, and a genuine outdoor live gigs in the sun. Some solid songwriting and scores of awesome guitar licks made this album some of the most worth-while time spent in 2021. Period!
Without abandoning the legends who inspired the two superior virtuosos, Vandborg and Andersen adds a playfulness to guitar music that makes it accessible to most music lovers – without simplifying the art and craft of it at all.
That is quite an accomplishment. To us ‘Freewheeler‘ served as the wake-up call to remind us all just how fortunate we are to (still) have such skilled artists, making amazing art for the rest of us – despite a world pandemic.
It is also a reminder, that Electric Guitars is an outfit best served ‘live’, and boy how we miss those live gigs with their crowds, jumping in unison while singing their hearts out.
We will rendezvous with you and the fans in front of the center stage soon. That’s a promise!
Electric Guitars – “Freewheeler” – released: 12 November 2021
Jacob Dinesen – “The Joker’s Hand”
The Danish ‘Bruce Springsteen’ published his fifth studio album on 26 November 2021. Since 2008 the charismatic Dane with the deep voice has collaborated with the British singer-songwriter Allan Taylor, and on “The Joker’s Hand” the two turn up that special Dinesen variant of americana-folk just another notch. Top-notch in fact!
The album features 13 extremely well-composed songs, together covering any mood for every situation. From full-throttle party in the barn “Throw Away Today” to the heartbreakingly beautiful grand piano on “Looking At You“. The title track, featuring Taylor, is some of the best Dinesen has composed so far, and it surely will be one of the songs, giving him the international break-through he deserves.
‘The Joker’s Hand‘ is one of the absolute finest albums to come out of Denmark in 2021, why it, of course, is mentioned here.
Jacob Dinesen – “The Joker’s Hand” – released: 26 November 2021
Other great albums of 2021
Obviously, a lot more music by a wealth of fantastic bands and artists came out during 2021. They all made our lives richer and gave us comfort and company in a time of isolation and solitude, and hopefully lots of joyful moments listening.
We have surely forgotten to mention quite a few, but below you’ll find a list of other great publications in the past year. Please, feel free to add albums and artists missing in the comments field at the bottom.
Passenger – “Songs for the Drunk and Broken Hearted” – 8 January 2021
Steve Hackett – “Under a Mediterranean Sky” – 22 January 2021
Accept – “Too Mean to Die” – 29 January 2021
Martin Gore – “The Third Chimpanzee (EP)” – 29 January 2021
Weezer – “OK Human” – 29 January 2021
Foo Fighters – “Medicine at Midnight” – 5 February 2021
Nick Cave – “Carnage” – 25 February 2021
Alice Cooper – “Detroit Stories” – 26 February 2021
Bonnie Tyler – “The Best Is Yet to Come” – 26 February 2021
Willie Nelson – “That’s Life” – 26 February 2021
Steve Lukather – “I Found the Sun Again” – 26 February 2021
Pat Metheny – “Road to the Sun” – 5 March 2021
The Rumjacks – “Hestia” – 12 March 2021
Justin Bieber – “Justice” – 19 March 2021
Lana del Rey – “Chemtrails over the Country Club” – 19 March 2021
Carrie Underwood – “My Savior” – 26 March 2021
Evanescence – “The Bitter Truth” – 26 March 2021
Demi Lovato – “Dancing With The Devil” – 2 April 2021
Jean-Michel Jarre – “Amazônia” – 9 April 2021
The Offspring – “Let the Bad Times Roll” – 16 April 2021
Snoop Dogg – “From tha Streets 2 that Suites” – 20 April 2021
Tom Jones – “Surrounded by Time” – 21 April 2021
Dropkick Murphys – “Turn Up That Dial” – 30 April 2021
Weezer – “Van Weezer” – 7 May 2021
St. Vincent – “Daddy’s Home” – 14 May 2021
Chai – “Wink” – 21 May 2021
Gary Numan – “Intruder” – 21 May 2021
Texas – “Hi” – 28 May 2021
Crowded House – “Dreamers Are Waiting” – 4 June 2021
Garbage – “No Gods No Masters” – 11 June 2021
Maroon 5 – “Jordi” – 11 June 2021
Styx – “Crash of the Crown” – 18 June 2021
Inhaler – “It Won’t Always Be Like This” – 9 July 2021
Barenaked Ladies – “Detour de Force” – 16 July 2021
John Mayer – “Sob Rock” – 16 July 2021
Billie Eilish – “Happier Than Ever” – 30 July 2021
Prince – “Welcome 2 America” – 30 July 2021
Lorde – “Solar Power” – 20 August 2021
Iron Maiden – “Senjutsu” – 3 September 2021
Manic Street Preachers – “The Ultra Vivid Lament” – 10 September 2021
Natalie Imbruglia – “Firebird” – 24 September 2021
Doobie Brothers – “Liberté” – 1 October 2021
Yes – “The Quest” – 1 October 2021
James Blake – “Friends That Break Your Heart” – 8 October 2021
Coldplay – “Music of the Spheres” – 15 October 2021
Santana – “Blessings and Miracles” – 15 October 2021
Tom Morello – “The Atlas Underground Fire” – 15 October 2021
Lana del Rey – “Blue Banisters” – 22 October 2021
Ed Sheeran – “= (equals)” – 29 October 2021
Tori Amos – “Ocean to Ocean” – 29 October 2021
Limp Bizkit – “Still Sucks” – 31 October 2021
Abba – “Voyage” – 5 November 2021
Diana Ross – “Thank You” – 5 November 2021
Rod Stewart – “The Tears of Hercules” – 12 November 2021
Adele – “30” – 19 November 2021
Sting – “The Bridge” – 19 November 2021
David Bowie – “Toy” – 26 November 2021
Westlife – “Wild Dreams” – 26 November 2021
Volbeat – “Servant of the Mind” – 3 December 2021
Neil Young – “Barn” – 10 December 2021
Latebar’s Album of the Year 2021
As always, it’s been really hard to decide, which album to earn the title ‘Latebar’s Preferred Album of the Year’. For a long while, we leaned heavily towards Johnny Flynn’s wonderful collaboration album and his interpretation of Gilgamesh. Even so, we spent a significant amount of time listening to the biggest surprise in 2021 – Nice Little Penguins’ very rocky and somewhat noisy “Beat Music vol. 2”. And for good reason.
Some acts, like Toad the Wet Sprocket and Del Amitri regained former strength and underlined that they are still among the best singer-songwriting acts out there.
Other experienced artists, such as Thomas Bergersen and Myles Kennedy, just delivered another round of first-class productions, meeting all expectations however sky high. Thank you both for saving an otherwise hard and strenuous year.
Quite a few hours were spent listening to Danish outfits, Jacob Dinesen, Electric Guitars, and The Grenadines. All wonderful artists who seemed to have found their right sound and signature, and who can join the exquisite selection of Danish music ambassadors, representing Denmark in the world.
That said, there was one album that stood out in the crowd. With the right mix of songwriting, instrument handling, wonderful singing, and an overall no-frills approach, Swedish duo Smith & Thell just swept our feet away. Their second album “Pixie’s Parasol” is an utter beauty, a fairy tale of flowers and love as well as comfort and compassion wrapped in a friendly party in the garden.
At Latebar we vividly recall our meetings with the British duo, Ash Hicklin and Kimmy Sawford (Bright Sparks), and later with the Irishmen, Harry and Alfie Hudson-Taylor, at the Jelling Musikfestival in Denmark. Next in line is Smith & Thell, and we sincerely hope they’ll be on the festival menu in 2022.
Dear Maria and Victor – Congrats and thank you so very much!
This year, we look up towards the sunSmith & Thell – ‘Year of the Young’
And wonder where everyone’s gone
Oh, this was the year of the young