On the one hand, the idea of writing about a selective list of albums released in a 12 month period is a bit of a quaint notion in the year of our Lord twenty twenty one.

Here we are, completely and utterly lost in music. Here we are, afloat on a sea of playlists, buffered by streams, surrounded by collections of songs set to soundtrack our every mood (from "classical chill coffee break" to "freaked out fell-off-my-skateboard-again blue-emo-fuck-you-jazzycore" – I may have made that one up). Here we are, decades on from when the idea of an album was first mooted.

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Here we are now, entertain us. Sure who needs a pesky album?

But on the other hand, the idea of an album is a sign that the artist is still winning. The "still" is important. At a time when the artist is kicked in the hoop by the machinations of the business and the world at large at every turn – from Covid restrictions styming the ability to make a living from playing live to serf-like precarious streaming royalty rates set back in the Middle Ages by permanent establishment music business mores – it is quite resfreshing to see the album as a concept is still very much alive and kicking. It can't be killed by venues taking 25% of your t-shirt sales. It can’t be knocked on the head by a government who don’t have a clue why people create music in the first place.

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It is what every act sets out to do: make an album. I’ve never come across an act whose ambition was to star in some stooopid Spotify playlist.

Every act wants to make an album, every act wants to leave their mark on the music firmament in the shape of an album. That was always the way, that is still the way.

An album is a great document of a moment in time. Look at Adele (spoiler alert: not featured below) or The Beatles (spoiler alert: also not featured below). Both of them dominated the music culture discourse for the past few weeks on the basis of making an album. Do you think they’d have got the same time attention for an aul’ Spotify playlist?

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When an act sets out to make an album, it is an artistic statement. It tells us where his/her/their head was at. It shows how the music they were creating stands up against the grain of what was going on at the time. It often stands alone and stands tall – and it often fades into the wallpaper.

The 25 albums below are the ones I’ve returned to again and again in the last 12 months. Between the general toil and trouble of a world much to its clear amazement still in the mist of a pandemic – and the very subjective toil and trouble of my own 12 months – these are the albums I kept going back to. You’ll find all sorts in there. Irish and international. Jazz and blues. Pop and rock. Lads and lasses. Acts from all over. Acts from down the road. Acts you’ve heard of before. Acts you haven’t a clue about.

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I’m as surprised by anyone at some of the albums which made the cut. I didn’t realise I’d spend so much of 2021 listening to a previoulsy unheard live recording of one of my favourite albums of all time. Likewise, I didn’t realise one of my other albums of the year would feature one of the players from that session in cahoots with a UK electronic producer.

But that’s the tale of the tape for 2021. 25 albums which stayed the course and gave me the energy, inspiration and sounds to keep going some more. 25 albums for days and nights. 25 albums which soundtracked long walks, runs, drives and cycles. 25 albums which put the punctuation into the year nearly gone by. 25 albums for you to check out as one year blends into the next...

Jim Carroll's Top 25 Albums of 2021

(1) Emma-Jean Thackray - Yellow

(2) Parquet Courts - Sympathy for Life

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(3) For Those I Love - For Those I Love

(4) Floating Points/Pharoah Sanders/LSO - Promises

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(5) Melanie Charles - Y'all Don't (Really) Care About Black Women

(6) Arlo Parks - Collapsed In Sunbeams

(7) Madlib - Sound Ancestors

(8) Tirzah - Colourgrade

(9) John Coltrane - A Love Supreme: Live In Seattle

(10) Serpentwithfeet - DEACON

(11) Villagers – Fever Dreams

(12) Valerie June - The Moon & Stars: Prescriptions For Dreamers

(13) Theon Cross – Intra-I

(14) Soda Blonde – Small Talk

(15) Arooj Aftab – Vulture Prince

(16) BadBadNotGood – Talk Memory

(17) Orla Gartland – Woman On the Internet

(18) Little Simz - Sometimes I Might Be Introvert

(19) Maykaya McCraven – Deciphering the Message

(20) Hiatus Kyoti – Mood Valiant

(21) The Weather Station - Ignorance

(22) Saint Sister - Where I Should End

(23) Chai – WINK

(24) Dijon - Absolutely

(25) Dialect - Under~Between