Updated: Dec 12, 2021
I always struggle to pick favourites out of the music that I’ve reviewed in a year. There’s so much superb, well-crafted music being produced by the incredible #synthfam that my list could have been much longer.
I chose the favourite albums that I reviewed in 2021 because each of them had qualities that I found irresistible in some way. I haven’t tried to rank my favourite albums in any way, they’re all too good for me to do that.
Instead, I just want to share my views on the albums with you and acknowledge the great talent of all of the artists and creators involved. Without further ado, here they are:
“Boardwalk Arcadia” by Pat Dimeo and guests
“Boardwalk Arcadia” radiated the emotionally complex sensation of youthful dreaming regarded through the lens of adult nostalgia. The songs explore the synergy and contradiction between teenage idealism and the demands of growing up.
A strong reason for my enjoyment of the album was Pat Dimeo’s skill as a melodist. He creates melodic content that walks the line between tragedy and uplift. The melodies exist in a world that knows youth has gone but yearns for the feelings it generated to persist regardless. I enjoyed how they became an integral part to the album’s atmosphere.
Pat Dimeo put in a masterful vocal performance on Boardwalk Arcadia. His voice was tremulous when expressing pain and full of dynamic power as he sang out about hope. I was especially drawn to the way he expressed hurting, gentle nostalgia as he sang. He interpreted the emotion in his lyrics well.
The fact that Boardwalk Arcadia featured live instrumental elements was another reason I especially enjoyed the album. The drums, saxophone, keys and percussions were all played live which added a strong feeling of connection to the music for me.
“Memories” by Coastal
Coastal’s “Memories” embodied the complex emotions, both thorny and gentle, that come as part of nostalgia for me. The way in which the vocalist Aaron Hetherington expressed deep and conflicted emotions, the pained and wistful music created an intense atmosphere, and the lyrics wove tales of sorrow and bittersweet joy.
The powerful emotional atmosphere of “Memories” was an integral part of why I was strongly drawn to it. The musical elements, the vocals and the melodies were all suffused with intense feelings of loss, dreaming, hope and happiness. The way in which Coastal captured and conveyed nostalgia was so pure and direct that it made my heart seize.
Aaron Hetherington’s vocal performances were another factor that made this one of my favourite albums to have reviewed in 2021. His voice has a deeply emotive quality that enhanced the power of the messages that were inherent in the song lyrics.
The guest singers on the album also contributed their unique voices to the emotional strength of “Memories.” Cymatica’s Terena Armstrong added her smoky, rich voice and Oblique’s Sonja Huerta Comes lent her bright, breezy vocals to “Kyoto.”
I was also pulled in by the poetic lyrics that Coastal wrote for “Memories.” The words are all carefully chosen for maximum impact and are full of evocative images and emotional truths. I found many of the songs truly moving and impactful in their honesty.
"Time Driven" by SkelOne (and Guests)
SkelOne’s “Time Driven” featured superb melodies, textured synthscapes and powerful percussion. I found it especially enjoyable for the way that it reinvigorated classic synthwave through SkelOne’s passionate energy and attention to detail.
One of the strongest elements on “Time Driven” was the quality of SkelOne’s melodies. He skillfully created melodies that clearly and expressively delivered fitting emotional impacts for each track. I also enjoyed his ability to colour even the most dynamic tracks with a hint of melancholy.
The collaborations with other artists were another impetus for my enjoyment of the album. Each of the collaborators brought their own unique sound to the table, adding more depth to the music. I was also inspired by the willingness of members of the #synthfam to pitch in and help a fellow creative out.
I also was drawn to the ways in which “Time Driven” showcased a deep well of synths textures, timbres and tones that SkelOne deployed to produce aurally complex, ear-catching synth tapestries. I felt that he smoothly integrated all of this luscious sound into one interlinked whole.