It’s that time of year again…
We asked our editorial team to look back over the turbulent twelves months we’ve just had and select their favourites and essentials from 2021. Over the next few days we’ll be reminscing, reflected and raving about some of many recommended releases, brands and artists that have motivated and moved us this year.
It starts right here with albums. For an artform that’s been continually called out as dying since the internet began, albums are still one of the most powerful statements an artist can make, and one of the strongest sources of inspiration a music lover can find. There have been stacks of mindblowingly strong and forward-thinking albums out this year across the whole bass spectrum. These are some of our writer teams’ favourites…
Aleph – Ego Death (Renraku)
Aleph’s debut album on Renkaru really stood out as a versatile and emotionally evocative piece of electronic music. From the increasingly intense onset, until the very end, marked by a timeless voice sample – Ego Death is a journey.
The idea behind the album represents the cycle of consciousness going through different stages of a psychedelic experience. Specifically the experiences surrounding ego death.
The album flows seamlessly when listened as whole. It’s immersive from start to finish thanks to the precision timing of everything, the beautifully crafted intermezzos (see the likes of Breathe and Recovery), the timely contrasts and careful balance of raw, even visceral, distorted experiences (see Noise Floor and Polymer)
As we revealed in an interview around the time, Aleph lived in a small rural town during the time of writing this album. Very much on the fringe of modern society, walks through the forests at the break of dawn became a part of his daily preparations before writing music. What’s more, the same was true for meditating each morning. And it made a big difference in his approach to music.
Born in a time of deep introspection, inspired by moments of even deeper inspiration and risking being eaten by bears, Ego Death is an inspiring and exemplary story of rising above circumstances… Even when society sucks and your studio gear is subpar. (Michael Janiec)
BCee – This Time Next Year (Spearhead)
I cast my mind back to 2013 around the time I first started listening to DNB and remember London Elektricity introducing Bcee’s remix of Camo and Crooked’s Afterlife and I remember 13 year old me being captivated by the fact that electronic dance music could be so fast and aggressive and so soft and beautiful at the same time.
This statement still applies to Bcees new album This Time Next Year with 13 tracks of beautiful tear jerking liquid drums with ethereal soul vocals layered over the top of what London Elektricity describes as “fast soul music”. Liquid drum and bass at its finest. The cherry on top of this album as well is the massive list of remixes that follows the main course that Bcee offers up. This auditory features a host of remixes of varying styles from artists such as: Bop, Phaction, LSB, Tim Reaper, Levela, Waeys and many more all contribute to BCee’s celebration of 20 years in the game. Here’s to another 20 more. (Jake Williams)
Calibre – Feeling Normal (Signature)
It’s a good year to be a Calibre fan. Then again, let’s be honest here – every year is a good year to be a Calibre fan, isn’t it? One of the most prolific and brilliant minds of our generation, he’s got more unreleased music than most artists put together, quoted as saying it “comes out of me like water”. Lucky for us that means we’re treated to a mind-blowing output of genius productions spanning different flavours and tempos on a pretty regular basis.
He’s just dropped the highly-anticipated seventh instalment of his much-loved Shelflife album series, which features many long-awaited gems within the D&B sphere, but for me, the highlight of Calibre’s output this year came in the form of his 16th album, and first ever completely 140 LP: Feeling Normal.
Boxing any body of work that Calibre produces into one tempo or genre is a total disservice, though, so 140 here is used primarily as a loose starting point to describe the magic sprinkled across these 13 slices of brilliance. Somewhere between warm, ambient tones, murky dubstep, garage, loose breakbeat connections and everything in between, Feeling Normal is a powerful body of work that’s mesmerising, uplifting, melancholic, atmospheric and rowdy all in one.
From the hypnotic, almost tribal rhythm of opening track Barren (see above), to the simply stunning Time To Breathe, which features a beautifully haunting vocal from the immensely talented Cimone, to multiple links with DRS like the heads-down-lighters-up rhythm of Badman, Calibre’s own distinct, heavenly vocals sprinkled throughout on gems like the uplifting Change With Me as well as on moving title track Feeling Normal – this album is simply a joy to listen to from start to finish.
I had the absolute pleasure of experiencing most of it at London dubstep night HVYWGHT just before the pandemic changed our lives in 2020, and what struck me most was how hard these tunes actually hit on a dancefloor. Then, when the album landed in February of this year it became quickly apparent that it worked just as well at home, too.
With each track averaging over six minutes long, it’s a real testament to the hypnotic and captivating nature of Calibre’s arrangements that you’re left still wanting more…
In another year where everything’s been far from normal, it’s a relief to have had beautiful bodies of work like this to escape the chaos with. Salute to the Music Man. (Maja Cicic)
Dimension – Organ (Dimension)
Just like High Contrast, Calibre or S.P.Y.’s tracks, you can immediately recognise a Dimension-produced tune. We were always going to be in for a serious treat with his debut album, Organ. It certainly did not disappoint. Dimension has long been a favourite artist of mine, he has such a unique and distinctive sound – raw, powerful, energetic, dark, moody and mysterious. He’s not afraid to push boundaries and this album really showcases his music. With 17 tracks in total, Dimension wasn’t mucking about with this one.
There were a few tracks that we are all already well familiar with, such as the insane Desire with Sub Focus, Love To Give featuring Billy Lockett, and Devotion featuring Cameron Hayes, all absolute anthems in their own right. However, the new tracks just blew my mind, the production is top notch, each tune is different, there’s some unreal collabs as well, including the legendary GQ on Danger and the fantastic vocals of Liam Bailey on Lord’s Prayer. Offender is particularly fresh and interesting, pure energy, a techno beat that switches to drum and bass, it reminds me of that nightclub scene in the film Blade! Alive featuring Poppy Baskcomb also hits me right in the feels, highly emotional and euphoric…. The list goes on! There really is something for everyone on this album. With so many good albums out this year, it was very hard to pick just one, but this one couldn’t go unchecked. A true work of art. (Louise Lake)
DRS – Light Language (Space Cadet)
At the start of the year where we all needed a bit of light, positivity, soul-searching and reflection, who else but DRS to come to our aid with perhaps his finest album showpiece yet – Light Language. With our premier space cadet releasing his 3rd solo album at the end of February, this magical collection is equal parts pure soul, wisened lyricism and omniscient, experience-hardened reflection, all brought together by Del’s magnificent artistry and a host of handpicked collaborators: HMD, Redeyes, Need For Mirrors, Mindstate, Vangeliez, Dogger, Maverick Sabre, FD & Think Tonk.
The sheer amount of goosebump-inducing moments on the album just go to show how meaningful and powerful it is; the downright beautiful, effortlessly empathetic Vangeliez-produced duo Us & Save Me Now (the latter feat. the wonderful, yearning tones of Maverick Sabre); gorgeous album opener Cinnamon Roses (feat. the sublime stylings of HMD); the ferociously flowing Need For Mirrors-crafted stepper Running Back – just some of the highlights from the project. It’s not an exaggeration to say every track is a masterpiece in its own right.
To top it all off, DRS’ recent live shows – the first at Manchester’s Gorton Monastery, and the second at Camden’s Jazz Cafe – were some of the most memorable occasions in recent memory, and the latter was certainly the finest live show I think I’ve ever been to. The sheer amount of emotion and passion in the room was a sight I’ll never forget, and a fitting, seminal occasion for one of the UK’s very finest vocal exports. (Cal Sorensen)
Fox – Squang Dangs In The Key of Vibes (The North Quarter)
There’s been a lot of D&B artists this year who have ‘taken the bull by its horns’ so to speak, and Fox is undoubtedly one of them. You only have to listen to his album Square Dangs In the Key Of Vibes to see this. From his smooth voice that somehow sits just as beautifully on the dirtiest banger in Walk Out to the most idyllic liquid of Just Chillin’, to the list of album collaborators including the likes of Calibre, DRS, L-Side and Alix Perez, this album is an absolute monolith. It was also a huge moment for the scene in general with another vocalist releasing their own album – something we’re going to see a lot more of going forward. Our scene is filled with vocal gems right now and this album from Fox is something precious we will look back on in years to come as a key moment of positivity for the scene. (Jake Hirst)
Fred V – Radiate (Hospital Records)
His debut album as a solo artist, Fred V is back with a bang with Radiate, a feel-good project stacked with liquid goodness. Since leaving his well-loved partnership with Grafix, Fred V has not disappointed; continuing to live up to his reputation of producing some of the best tunes in the game.
Releasing on Hospital Records as the summer of regained freedoms drew to a close, this album represents a positive time in our lives. Radiate also features some super talented vocalists like Lottie Jones and Zara Kershaw, who elevate the celestial sounds of Fred V. Poison and Harmonise go beyond the liquid realm to inject a groovy energy to this record, while the melody of Program and Control reminds us of warm summer days with the windows rolled down.
You know an album has hit the mark when you can listen all the way through without skipping or shuffling. Fred V continues to make his projects uniquely beautiful, creating a gentle synergy between liquid, jungle and broader drum and bass. (Hannah Gowen)
Lenzman – A Little While Longer (The North Quarter)
“A Little While Longer: a longing for a brief moment in time. A thought back to days past and time spent with loved ones or friends. What we do with the brief moment we have in this life. What we decide is important enough to spend it on…”
It’s hard to capture the emotion and essence of Dutch grandmaster Lenzman’s latest project more fittingly than this touching passage that accompanied the release.
Stemming from love, loss, light and that yearning for a snapshot of previous days passed, A Little While Longer captures an image; a moment; an emotional process that is rarely seen within the refines of drum & bass today. Marking his fully-fledged return to his beloved The North Quarter imprint, and his album follow-up to the exemplary Bobby LP on Metalheadz, A Little While Longer showcases 8 equally meaningful tracks, including a mix of solo efforts and sublime vocal collaborations with TNQ stalwart Fox and breakout stars Slay & Danny Sanchez. A poignant, moving project that casts an affecting eye back to the past, but also reflects on the present and looks to the future with hope; yet another artistic gem from Lenzman, and one that sounds just as powerful at home as the dancefloor – so many favourites from TNQ’s Phonox residency on board here. It’s safe to say this project has meant a lot to me personally this year, and I’m sure it’s helped many with their own battles. (Cal Sorensen)
London Elektricity – Rebuilding Better Worlds (Hospital Records)
There are some albums that just shouldn’t be remixed and there are others that are calling out for a new lease of life. I originally thought Building Better Worlds was the former as it’s a masterpiece filled with magical moments – especially some of the epic instrumental solos (big up Tony). Oh how wrong I was though! Rebuilding Better Worlds is the perfect example of how a remix album should be done. Sympathetic to the original, innovative in its approach and diverse in the talent remixing it. I found myself falling in love with the tracks all over again. Whether it was Degs and his brother MURIUKI flipping Kubrick’s View into a thing of jazzy beauty, or Justin Hawkes remixing a tune I thought no producer would dare attempt in Final View From The Rooftops, there’s so much to admire about the ambition and execution of this album. It’s wicked to see some amazing newcomer talents getting the opportunity to work on the originals too. Mozey, Lilac and Winslow all smashed it. (Jake Hirst)
Monty – Hit The Lights (1985 Music)
After several years on the grind releasing singles, EPs and remixes – each more impressive than the last – Monty has delivered on a 15-track LP of drum & bass, dubstep, and beyond. It’s no easy feat putting together something so varied in BPM and style, while maintaining the flow of an album that can be enjoyed in an end-to-end listen. It reminds me of a couple of classics from modern pioneers – Alix Perez’s 1984 and Icicle’s Under The Ice. Like these, Hit The Lights has its big moments like with Hardware and Vibin, it ventures to experimental moments like with Hit The Lights and Walking Home – but it’s the typical Monty rollers that I really love. Cargo, Birdland, Cinnamon, and I Knew So are the ones that take me to Toulouse, and will be bringing me back to this album for a long time. (Sam Yates)
Mungk – Temple of Mungk (DUPLOC)
As far as concept albums go, Mungk really stepped up the game with Temple of Mungk. Rather than just taking listeners on a musical and emotional journey, the 17 tracks place us in the shoes of a monk on a remarkable expedition. Running at 140 beats per minute, the album is a tale about a monk’s journey of enlightenment as he travels from China, through the Middle East, into and down Africa before crossing the Indian Ocean to make his way back home. Each track geographically follows him on his journey and reflects the countries that the monk passes through, as he aims to understand how others live their lives to broaden his own horizons. Beyond just using scales and imitating sounds associated with these regions, Mungk sourced field recordings and samples of instruments from each country to immerse us into the experiences of the monk on his odyssey. Best enjoyed as a single body of work but also consisting of tracks that stand strong individually, Mungk has taken captivating listeners to another level. (Purav Parmar)
NC-17 – Most Violent Year (Dispatch Recordings)
150 tracks reduced and refined down to a remarkable three album trilogy… Toronto’s NC-17 didn’t just make good use of his time during the 2020 lockdowns, he changed his life.
As we revealed in this extensive interview earlier this year, Most Violent Year is the sound of Peter Aldan working his way through seismic changes in both his personal life and the world as knew it. The intensive process he put himself through (sometimes working upwards of 15 hours a day) resulted in drum & bass music’s first album trilogy which we’re still only two thirds through; Most Violent Year is a heartfelt exploration of his love for this music, a daring showcase of his musical and technical skills and an exemplary lesson in consistency and album craft as he guides us through the lightest pathways and darkest corners of his own personal D&B universe, nodding at surrounding and connecting galaxies from Metalheadz to Virus to Quarantine along the way.
Featuring collaborations with a whole host of like-minded talents such as Dunk, Kumarachi, Yatuza, Kollectiv, OB1 and Philth, Most Violent Year captures so much information and presents it in every direction; it’s a love letter to the foundations, it’s a celebration of where D&B is at right now, it’s testament to Ant TC1 and how he runs Dispatch. But most of all, it’s an indelible and enduring contribution to the scene from one of Canada’s hardest working and highly skilled artists. There’s no coincidence he’s been on Ram, Program, Metalheadz and Bad Taste in the last two months alone – NC-17 is an inspiring, dedicated and hugely talented machine. Bring on Most Violent Year part three! (Dave Columbo Jenkins)
Nu:Tone – Little Spaces (Hospital Records)
This 14-track LP was a bright, energetic and exciting gift in February 2021, when life seemed permanently on-hold. Nu:Tone has collated a record of tunes that are guaranteed to make you want to move, showcasing a reel of quality liquid including the massive One Day At A Time, which became a firm favourite of the year for many.
This is his first album since 2014, and one of only a handful of releases since 2011, making this project even more special. Full of great vocal samples and vibrant melodies, basslines and orchestral influences, this album is a real uplifting musical journey. (Hannah Gowen)
Pola & Bryson – Beneath The Surface (Shogun Audio)
Considering the electronic world of music is flooded with far more EPs than their extended counterparts, drum and bass was blessed with an array of beautifully curated albums in 2021. One of these was Pola & Bryson’s outstanding Beneath The Surface, a conceptual 15 track body of work that’s amalgamation of immersive artwork, visuals, concepts, and sounds went on to define its listening experience as a true musical journey.
Four separate sections, which represent different physical landscapes, help the duo represent different mental and emotional states throughout various stages of the LP. It’s an interesting and innovative way concept that allows them to range across a beguiling landscape from the sweet sonics of Shinrinyoku and Under to the mystically atmospheric soundscapes of Mangata and Toska, the tense moods of Wind Rises, and the dancefloor-tailored nature of Decay and Anaesthsist.
My advice to you is simple: Grab your best set of headphones, sit somewhere quiet, and completely immerse yourself in Pola & Bryson’s masterpiece from start to finish. You can read UKF’s exclusive interview with Pola & Bryson regarding their Beneath The Surface LP here. (Charlie Cummings)
Riya & Collette Warren – Two Sides Of Everything (Carnelian Music)
Everything about this album from Riya & Collette Warren commands praise and attention. Firstly, the fact it’s the first time two of drum & bass music’s most consistent, long-standing and influential singers have together on one album. Following last year’s massive link-up between DRS and Dynamite, this is a collaboration of premium strength, high grade, uncut levels.
Secondly, the fact it was funded by a PRS bursary for womxn in music and was awarded the funding over many, many other applicants in other genres, which is testament to both the clout and skills of Riya & Collette Warren and the currently rude health of drum & bass. Thirdly, it’s loaded with beats from some of the most exciting artists in the game ranging from Sl8r to Roni Size via Whiney, Visages, Monrroe, Kyrist, Dogger & Mindstate, Random Movement, Phil:osophy and many more.
But most importantly, it’s a beautiful album. With so many different artists involved, each with their own sound and signature, there’s always a danger this could end up sounding like a collection of tracks and not a proper album. But thanks to the arrangement there’s a beautiful arc to the LP as Riya and Collette guide us through their perceptions and thoughts on life, music, connections and emotions over a full spectrum of drum & bass. From the Sl8r-produced funk-riddled opener Showtime to the introspective, thoughtful finale Whatever Comes (with Dogger & Mindstate), the album is a well considered and powerful journey from start to finish.
There’s a reason Riya, Collette and this album were nominated for stacks of trophies in the recent Drum&BassArena Awards this year. Find out more about the album in Hannah Gowen’s excellent interview with them earlier this year. (Dave Columbo Jenkins)