Cambridge Audio's Favourite Albums of 2021 so far
Somehow, we’ve already made it to July and while some things are still unsettled – namely, the weather – one thing that has brought much delight to our ears so far this year is the amount of incredible albums that have been released. Here, the HQ team at Cambridge Audio round up their top picks from the first half of 2021.
Children of Zeus - Balance
‘Balance’ is the second album from Manchester based soul duo Children of Zeus. Their debut album ‘Travel Light’ (also well worth checking out) was received very well and certainly set the foundations for what has quickly become the groups unmistakable sound - a big melting pot of R&B, neo-Soul, Hip-Hop, Jazz, Slow Jams and Gospel, but with an unmistakable UK sound running throughout. Imagine if J Dilla, D’Angelo, Flying Lotus and A Tribe Called Quest all got in the studio together, but in Moss Side - it basically sounds like that.
Tracks worth checking are ‘No Love Song’ - which has received lots of support and notoriety both in the UK and across the pond - and my personal favourite, the beautiful ‘Cali Dreams’, which is a big nod to the 90’s Westcoast Hip-Hop sound – lovely stuff! Very refreshing and totally different from anything else around right now. Expect imminent world domination from these two.
- Alex Crawford, Customer Support Agent
Manchester Orchestra – The Million Masks of God
Six albums in, Manchester Orchestra have assuredly found their sound with ‘The Million Masks of God’. They’ve always been great at the quiet-loud dynamics that make them such a great rock band, but Million Masks builds on that with lush textures and additions of electronic tones (Keel Timing), strings and piano motifs (The Internet).
Richly textured and lyrically poetic, with singer Andy Hull’s vocals still an emotive powerhouse, ‘The Million Masks of God’ is possibly their best record yet – and rather than having standout tracks, it’s one that deserves to be listened to as a body of work, from start to finish. That said, all I want now is to see tracks like ‘Bed Head’ performed live alongside their other hits.
- Coral Williamson, Communications Manager
Muse – Origin of Symmetry (XX Anniversary RemiXX)
Though not a new album as such, Muse’s re-working and release of their ‘Origin of Symmetry’ album 20 years on has been very much enjoyed by me since its release. Bringing out some of the more downplayed or muted strings for one has added character to some of the lesser-known album tracks, as well as some additional drama… in case there wasn’t enough already. Often on remixes of older albums, modern production values can sometimes over compress and remove dynamic range for the sake of loudness, but this is not the case here – while this is not uncompressed, it is less of a modernising and more a re-imagining that although will not replace the original, it adds some very enjoyable elements that has brightened my listening in recent times.
- Stephen Tizzard, Senior Audio Hardware Engineer
Lonely The Brave - The Hope List
It’s not easy having to replace a singer, but in Jack Bennett the band found a vocal force beyond anyone’s expectations. ‘The Hope List’ sees Lonely The Brave return to their finest form, delivering emotive, guitar-driven anthems that soar with each chorus and nose dive into your feelings at every turn. ‘Bright Eyes’ and ‘Distant Light’ wouldn’t look out of place on a Foo Fighters record, whilst ‘Something I Said’ and ‘Bound’ will have the hairs on the back of your neck tingling from the first note. Then there’s album closer ‘The Harrow’, with its haunting intro and hammering drums that lead you into the most astounding crescendo. A jaw-dropping finale to wrap up an album that very nearly didn’t happen, but thank God it did. Plus, they are from Cambridge so…
- Tamsyn Wilce, Digital Marketing Executive
Bo Burnham - Inside
'Inside' won’t be for everyone, but for those that get it, it is the gift that keeps on giving. 30-year-old comic actor, Bo Burnham, has shown not only a mastery of a wide variety of genres and styles (pop, electro, musical dancehall, R&B, hip-hop, stadium ballads, sad-boy acoustic folk, and Taylor Swift-core) but has smartly delivered them in a manner that falls somewhere between pastiche and playful, without ever feeling joyless or mocking.
I’ve had a different line or a chorus from this album on a loop in my head every day since first listening to this album nearly two months ago. Parody songs are not supposed to have this sort of longevity, they’re not supposed to still be funny on the 25th listen, they’re definitely not supposed to still reveal hidden depths (and gags) after two months of almost solid listening, and the songs from a Netflix special should not have produced one of the best albums of 2021 so far, but here we are. In a year that improbably seems to be even weirder and more unpredictable than the last, it somehow feels strangely fitting.
- Tom Castle, Customer Support Agent
Czarface & MF DOOM – Super What?
‘Super What?’, the second collaborative album between the comic book inspired trio, Czarface (Wu-Tang Clan’s Inspectah Deck and hip-hop duo 7L & Esoteric) and legendary rapper, MF DOOM, was unleashed on the world this past May, a mere 6 months after DOOM’s unexpected passing. Recorded in 2020 but shelved for over a year due to the global pandemic, we get one last entertaining and fun victory lap from the Supervillain. Paired with the dominant Jay-Z-esque flow of Esoteric and Inspectah Deck’s laid-back rhymes, DOOM plays somewhat of a supporting role on the short album (clocking in at under 27 min), but his verses are loose, relaxed and more effortless than any of his recent work. Check out on the aptly titled ‘DOOM Unto Others’, a high point in the rapper’s later career output that will remind listeners of the Madvillain days. Other standout tracks on the album include ‘This is Canon Now’, where Esoteric name drops nearly every Marvel superhero in a tight 2 minutes, and the super smooth ‘Break in the Action’. Additionally, guest spots from Run DMC’s Darryl “DMC” McDaniels and Del The Funky Homosapien bring even more fun to this light-hearted LP.
- Alex Bender, Marketing & Partnerships Manager (US)
Sleaford Mods – Spare Ribs
I only really discovered Sleaford Mods this year, with the release of their new album, ‘Spare Ribs’ back in January. They have a couple of good collaborations on the record, such as ‘Mork n Mindy’ with Billy Nomates and ‘Nudge It’ with Amy Taylor. It’s not going to be to everybody’s taste and admittedly, I found myself cringing slightly while listening to it, but the guys have got talent and from what I’ve seen, are really down to earth – not the mainstream sell-outs some have labelled them as. I’m looking forward to their gig (should it happen) later this year, to see the album and its energy in a live setting.
- Darren Whittington, Senior Drupal Developer
Jane Weaver - Flock
Ethereal vocal, check. Dirty guitars, check. Soaring melodies, check. Jane Weaver’s latest release is pure pop sensibility laid over a nuanced and varied backdrop of attention-grabbing instrumentation. One to make the working (at home) day go just a little bit quicker. Favourite track? ‘Solarized’ is dance music done different.
- Tony Stott, Head of Product Marketing
Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders and The London Symphony Orchestra - Promises
When I first heard about this project I remember being quite taken aback. Floating Points - aka Sam Shephard - is an electronic music producer, DJ, record collector, musician & neuroscientist. His talents seem to know no bounds. Pharoah Sanders is someone who in the jazz world needs no introduction, he’s a legendary saxophonist, so for someone who has an interest in both of these genres it’s almost a dream collaboration.
These two artists, combined with the London Symphony Orchestra, have created a record that I found incredibly emotive. It stirred feelings that gave me a lump in my throat and made the hairs on the back of my arms stand on end - that’s what it’s all about in my opinion! It’s an album that I have found myself coming back to again and again and I am sure I will do so for many years to come.
- Tomas Smare, Mechanical Engineer
Architects - For Those That Wish to Exist
This is one of my favourite metal releases of the year so far. I’ve been following Architects for a long time and it’s always interesting seeing them change their musical styles - from the early heavy days of ‘Nightmares’ to the more pop-orientated ‘The Here and Now’. ‘For Those That Wish to Exist’ is a solid album from the Brighton boys, it’s as accessible as the metalcore genre is going to be, with lots of catchy melodies and heavy riffs all wrapped up with some awesome song crafting. It’s paced really well and the production is spot on, polished enough to really carry some weight but still sounds aggressive. They’re not reinventing the wheel with this album but they’ve taken the best part of 15+ years of experience and made something that is the sum of all their parts. Would strongly recommend.
- Alex Harrison, E-Commerce Marketplace Coordinator
Hannah Peel – Fir Wave
My most anticipated, played & loved album this year is ‘Fir Wave’ by Hannah Peel. On the face of it, it’s an instrumental electronic music album - but as it’s by the multi-talented Hannah Peel it’s so much more. Its inspiration is a 1972 album by electronic music pioneer Delia Derbyshire (she of Doctor Who theme-tune fame) - using both samples from it & the same organic approach to creating music. Wind instruments and piano are combined with elements of Delia’s work, vintage synthesisers and, I suspect, sound samples from the natural world. The effect is an electric album that’s not cold & harsh, but warm & embracing. It charts nature’s cycles, evolving and transforming as the album unfolds. It’s a great working from home soundtrack - but when unleashed on a decent hi-fi set-up it opens up into so much more. Simply stunning.
- David B, Marketing Consultant