My 2021 In Music

eric boam
7 min readDec 24, 2021
Waxahatchee at Mohwak on September 30, 2021

Throughout the year I struggled to keep up with discovering new music. Yet as I look back on the year, I found that there were a number of new albums that inspired me. And so that is the theme of my Top Ten list for 2021 — albums that inspired me.

My Ten Favorite Albums of 2021

  1. HEY WHAT by Low (Nearly 30 years into their career, Low is still pushing. This inspires me a lot. This album is difficult to listen to at times because of the static and distortion, but that is what makes it special to me. It captures the general feeling I have about the world. I think “Days Like These” is a masterpiece song. I loved this interview with producer BJ Burton.)
  2. a softer focus by Claire Rousay (My friend Aric, who writes an awesome newsletter about art, sent this album to me. It is all field recordings cut and compiled into songs. It’s beautiful and it was instantly inspiring, making me want to make music in unconventional ways. “peak chroma” is a good place to start. Bonus reading material.)
  3. Sour by Olivia Rodrigo (I’m inspired that the youth of the world continues to mine their heartbreak and channel it into song. That the simplicity of punk-ish music is still a vehicle for self expression. And that pop music is still evolving. “Drivers License” and “Brutal” are my favorite songs from the album.)
  4. Fun House by Hand Habits (I’m inspired by the beautiful music that Meg Duffy and band are making. “Fourth of July” was my most listened to song of the year, though it’s not on this album. “Clean Air” is the highlight of this album, especially the part around 2:11. That bass line when the music kicks back in is 👨‍🍳 💋 )
  5. Changephobia by Rostam (Since his last solo album, Rostam has produced albums for HAIM, Lykke Li, Clairo, Vampire Weekend, Maggie Rogers, and Ra Ra Riot. I’m inspired by the fact that he makes space for his own work outside of his prolificness as a producer. I really love the song “4Runner” and it reminds me of being young. I love how he phrases the chorus “When the trucks drive by, I feel ’em sway us side to side.”)
  6. Collapsed in Sunbeams by Arlo Parks (My friend Paul was early to this album and has sung its praises all year. I am inspired by the honesty of the emotions in these songs. Raw but not unconsidered. We don’t have to have it together, we don’t have to hide from our struggle.The songs “Hurt” and “Hope” are great examples on this album.)
  7. DEACON by serpentwithfeet (Josiah Wise has taken the intersection of gospel and R&B and pop and is pushing it into new territory. I’m inspired by the sweetness of the lyrics. I’m inspired that they don’t the words are honest without being too serious. I’m inspired by the melodies. This album has my favorite rhyme of the year: “Blessed is the man who gambles, Blessed is the man who wears socks with his sandals.” My fave song on the record is “Same Size Shoe”, because me and my boo almost have the same size shoe too.)
  8. Afrique Victime by Mdou Moctar (This album could have been appropriately titled Bangers Only. It is so good and each song is a jam. I’m inspired by how he has taken traditional music from his small village in Niger and brought it to the world. Listen to the whole thing and try not to move your body.)
  9. Somewhere by Sun June (My friend Jeff sent me this album from a local Austin band. It feels both new and also like it has always been around. I’m inspired by the feeling created in the song “Karen O”, and it makes me want to be young, going to shows in basements and living rooms and then watching the sun come up as the night ends.)
  10. From Dreams to Dust by The Felice Brothers (The song I listened to the second most this year was “Jazz on the Autobahn.” It reads like a Cohen brother’s script, with perfectly quirky characters. Yet it does it with an economical number of words. It shouldn’t be possible, and yet it is. That inspires me. There is also a beautiful obituary for a Mister Felice sung in the song “Be at Rest.”)

Other Things That Inspired Me in 2021

The DMX funeral procession in Brooklyn (Using a monster truck as a hearse was one of the coolest things I have seen in a long time. Grand, celebratory, irreverent, inspiring.)

60 Songs that Explain the 90s by Rob Harvilla (This podcast is perfect. He has a dry wit and an enthusiasm that makes every episode a treat to listen to. He captures what it was like to grow up in the 90s perfectly, with little details and asides. The episodes of songs I love make me love them even more. The episodes of songs I despise make me love them even just a little. That inspires me. I wish this series would never end, even though there are only 5 episodes to go. I’m holding out hope he does a series for the 2000s.)

Wu-Tang Clan at Red Rocks with Colorado Symphony (My first concert since a few months before the beginning of the pandemic, and what a way to return to live music. My brother-in-law, Patrick, is a massive Wu-Tang fan and he invited me to go with him. It was easily the most diverse group of people at a concert I have attended, which was especially inspiring in a highly polarized world. I’ll always remember the father and son who sat next to us in their well-worn punk band t-shirts, singing every single word to every single song, after driving 8 hours that day to the show.)

Latter Days by Big Red Machine (This song was written by Anais Mitchell before the pandemic, but the lyrics describe the state of the world so perfectly. The line “talking back to an act of God” is an inspiringly perfect line. The Justin Vernon solo performance was the first time I heard the song. I was thrilled when it was released on the latest Big Red Machine album.)

Charlie Watts remembrances (The oldest band in rock n roll lost its drummer this year. Now Keith and Mick are left to carry on without one of the most revered and respected drummers in music history. One of the tiny silver linings of his passing was all of the stories and tributes that came rushing in. It’s worth a scroll of this article to see everyone who paid tribute, from Questlove to Paul McCartney to Sleater Kinney to Max Weinberg to Dinosaur Jr. Watts also had both an obituary and a Style tribute in the NY Times. That is something to aspire to.)

Get Back by Peter Jackson (I’m not going to say anything about this documentary that hasn’t already been said. It’s an amazing historical artifact. The way it was made is remarkable. Over 8 hours of film without a single line of narration. And the process it reveals of a band fighting entropy to make the next album. Truly inspiring from every angle. I’ll be thinking about it for a long time.)

Tributes to Virgil Abloh (Virgil inspired everyone. Musicians, athletes, actors, makers, builders, creators. A man who was prolific in fashion, music, design. He saw no lines between disciplines and crafts. He kept nothing about his process secret, choosing to lift others up and help anyone make their dreams come to reality. Always willing to send a kind message or share inspiring words over the phone. That is truly inspiring.)

Light of a Clear Blue Morning (live) by Waxahatchee at Mohawk (For a little while this year, the pandemic waned in Austin long enough for live music to return. I was able to see a few shows and Waxahatchee at Mohawk was the standout of the group. They played the entirety of Saint Cloud, one of my favorite albums of 2020. And then they closed the show with a Tom Petty cover and then a Dolly Parton cover, Light of a Clear Blue Morning.

It’s been a long dark night
And I’ve been a waitin’ for the morning
It’s been a long hard fight
But I see a brand new day a dawning
I’ve been looking for the sunshine
You know I ain’t seen it in so long
But everything’s gonna work out just fine
And everything’s gonna be all right

It was the perfect way to end the concert. As I left the show, I felt hope for the first time in a couple of years. While we still have a ways to go, I am buoyed by the hope in those lyrics — that everything’s gonna be all right, it’s gonna be okay.)