In 2021, Real Gone celebrated its twelfth year online. It’s hard to believe we’ve endured for so long, but that’s down to you – our enthusiastic and still growing audience – coming back every week to explore the more “cult” aspects of a new release schedule as well as continuing to enjoy our occasional dips back into music’s past.
Having long established a house style, our approach remained the same as the past few years: the site has mixed in depth pieces on new albums with occasional “archive pieces”, full length videos, and other bits of musical news and streams. That’s got us through another tricky twelve month stretch. That makes it sound like a prison sentence, but even with the ongoing pandemic hovering over all of us, it’s been far from bad.
We thought the pandemic in 2020 would curtail the amount of great stuff coming out, but the change in circumstances seemed to have the opposite effect, with bands using lockdown to get creative and battle against a confronting world. 2021, by comparison, certainly seems to have been more world weary, and the genuinely superb stuff has been a bit more scattershot, but there’s still been a lot of great music to be heard. As we reach the end of another year, it’s time to take a look at the best releases and the other stuff that’s really helped shape the soundtrack to our lives. Maybe one or two of our top picks will match yours; maybe, you’ll find something that’s new to you. Either way, here’s a run down of the year’s essentials according to Real Gone.
LITTLE THIEF – Under The Patio
After seeing Little Thief live, their album became one of our most anticipated new releases. A couple of years on from that live experience, ‘Under The Patio’ did not disappoint. Lurching between danceable rhythms and indie grooves, the album’s best material showcased a tight indie rock band, capable of mixing the big hooks of Arctic Monkeys with the grandeur of Elbow. Varied, yet always natural, it’s the kind of album that gets better with every play. [Full review here.]
JIM BOB – Who Do We Hate Today
Released barely a year after Jim’s critically acclaimed ‘Pop Up’ album, few expected new material from the one-time Carter USM frontman so soon. What’s more, ‘Who Do We Hate Today’ [a statement of resignation, rather than a questioning plea, hence the lack of punctuation] turned out to be every bit as good as its predecessor. Always drawing influence from current affairs, the pandemic and lockdown gave the singer songwriter a wealth of lyrical barbs, ranging from social distancing (‘The Summer of No Touching’), those with horrible opinions (‘#prayfortony’) and unfortunate labelling (‘Karen…’), whilst turning in some of his finest musical arrangements since 1993. [Full review here.]
DANY LAJ & THE LOOKS – Ten Easy Pieces
The power pop community will be aware of Canadian singer songwriter Dany Laj, but the wider world is likely to have missed his talents so far. ‘Ten Easy Pieces’ is the kind of record that, in an ideal world, would make him a star. The material retains an almost DIY feel, but when it hits, it does so in a massive way. In sounding like a more melodic take on They Might Be Giants, the single ‘Don’t Keep Me Guessin’ is certainly the most infectiously catchy song of 2021, but the album offered a lot more to back that up, resulting in a world of big hooks colliding with varied yet familiar musical arrangements. [Full review here.]
PORTABLE RADIO – Portable Radio
British power pop band Portable Radio seemed to appear from nowhere in 2021. Their debut album has a demo-like feel in places, but the material is often amazing. At its very best, listeners might hear traces of ELO or The Silver Seas pumping the heart of material that feels very nostalgic. As a love letter to the sounds of AM radio, things don’t come much better. [Full review here.]
GROUNDBREAKER – Soul To Soul
Old fashioned 80s style melodic rock has always been important to Real Gone, but this second album from Groundbreaker really is a superb example of the genre. Featuring FM’s Steve Overland on vocals, the record is brimming with massive choruses throughout, and although his presence will always be familiar, Groundbreaker’s take on the genre feels a little different to FM’s own. This shows how well Overland adapts to a slightly Scandinavian influenced sound, and is the kind of record his fans will absolutely love. [Full review here.]
INDONESIAN JUNK – Living In A Nightmare
Indonesian Junk are a band that seems to get better with age. The releases in the run up to 2019’s ‘Spiderbites’ were decidedly raucous, and not always in the best way. ‘Living In A Nightmare’ retains a rough and ready core, but works much harder for those chorus hooks, eventually feeling like a lost New York Dolls session. With guest spots from Kurt Baker and City Mouse’s Miski Dee, the album also has the seal of approval from a couple of the punk/power pop scene’s grass roots heroes. [Full review here.]
THE 1957 TAIL FIN FIASCO – Don’t Go Anywhere
Once considered Essex’s own answer to a DIY Steely Dan, their ‘Don’t Go Anywhere’ album finds David and Malcolm stretching out, mixing their jazz pop and power pop chops with bits of new wave, and even a nod or two to a much grander rock sound, all without losing their identity. The whole album is excellent, but the XTC-ish lead single ‘J Is For Genius’ is the perfect snapshot of The Fiasco’s all round confidence at this stage of their career. [Full review here.]
ABDOUJAPAROV – Race Home Grow Love
Best known as one half of Carter USM, Les “Fruitbat” Carter has carved out a second career as leader of indie rock band Abdoujaparov. The on/off band’s 2021 release features many of Fruitbat’s strongest songs to date as he muses on middle age and its tribulations (‘Goodbye Sweet Bread’), the end of a relationship (‘You’re Breaking Up’) and reaching out to others (‘You Don’t Have To Be Alone’). Musically, it’s a genuine mixed bag – shifting from punky indie rock to country, stopping along the way for a superb XTC inspired number – but there’s plenty here to entertain. [Full review here.]
YES – The Quest
Whenever Prog magazine posted Yes-related news in 2021, each thread was derailed by a barrage of negativity. It didn’t seem to take long before the “no Jon Anderson, no Yes” bores piped up, trying to make the band’s current line up feel insignificant. Like it or not, Chris Squire wished for the band to continue after his passing, and ‘The Quest’ is evidence enough that Steve Howe and “new boy” Billy Sherwood (now celebrating over twenty years as part of the Yes family) have plenty to offer. ‘The Quest’ mixes some very Yes-oriented arrangements with accessible songs, creating an album that’s both bigger in scope and more interesting than its predecessor ‘Heaven & Earth’. It manages to feel familiar without being stuck in 1972 which, clearly, some of their more vocal fans wish they still were. [Full review here.]
ESKINA – We Are The Moon
With its mid-November release, Eskina’s ‘We Are The Moon’ was a rather late contender with regard to the year’s best albums, but it came as an unexpected treat. A selection of soundtrack-like soundscapes blending jazz bass with chamber music, its succinct thirty five minutes is a perfect showcase for a full range of sounds geared towards late night listening. [Full review here.]
Outside of our ten top picks, there are some honourable mentions, obviously. A close second for the best melodic rock album of ’21, Robin McAuley’s return with ‘Standing On The Edge’ brought a succession of massive choruses set against some brilliantly retro riffs. More importantly, the veteran vocalist sounded in better shape than many of his better known peers. There’s very little else to say other than if you’re a fan of 80s AOR, you need this record in your life, and the same can be said for Chez Kane’s self-titled debut – a record loaded with huge choruses harking back to the sun filled days of 1987. Prog fans would do very well to take a close listen to ‘Strolling Early Morning’ from Vincent Carr’s SUMIC, since it’s a great DIY release blending some very Mike Oldfield-esque influences with folk tinges, and fans of solid rock sounds are recommended to explore the 2021 release from Vega since, despite line up changes, the British rock band sound better than ever, and could be considered a rival to the better known Gun at their peak. On the noisier side of things, Cult Burial added a progressive slant to death metal experimentation, resulting in a brave and challenging release; Garage rockers Lobsterbomb and French Girls mined some familiar sounds to bring big riffs and distortion, and UK duo Get The Fuck Outta Dodge used the second UK lockdown to bash out a brilliantly carefree cassette of cover tunes that provided a great reason for most people to check them out.
In addition to all of that, it was a very good year for anthologies, retrospectives and reissues. We’ve covered dozens upon dozens of things that fit that category over the past twelve months, but two brilliant collections from the Cherry Red Records stable stand out particularly vividly. ‘Think I’m Going Weird’, a five disc collection of psychedelic nuggets served up a broad selection of unfamiliar treats, and a box set of beat group and rock band material from Birmingham (‘Once Upon A Time In The West Midlands’) explored the Midlands contribution to the British music scene in the 60s and 70s with some very interesting results. If nothing else, it’s the kind of set that shows how The Move’s family tree was vast, and Slade should always be thought of as more than a festive staple. [Full reviews for each of these releases can be found behind the relevant HTML links.]
There will be a couple more reviews and other bits to come from Real Gone before the end of ’21, but in the meantime, we’d like to thank our loyal readers who’ve continued to support us, visiting the site a few times a week, and those who’ve generally spread the word about us and the bands we’ve championed, and bought us virtual coffees. We’d also like to thank the countless number of bands, labels, PR teams and business people who’ve tirelessly sent us new things for review week and week out. In an ever wobbly world, we’ve still had plenty to pick from and, obviously, there’s only a finite amount of time for review writing every week, but everything that comes our way continues to be appreciated.
Until next year…we’d like to thank each and every one of you. Here’s to another good year of music, social media shenanigans and new discoveries!
Lee Realgone, December ’21