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Album Review 2021 round-up with Ian Sinclair

Memorable albums were released by Jim Ghedi, John Francis Flynn, Sam Fender, Faye Webster and Valerie June and two impressive novels published: Fake Accounts by Lauren Oyler and Bewilderment by Richard Powers

INEXPLICABLY Jim Ghedi’s astonishing In The Furrows Of Common Place (Basin Rock) has been overlooked in the Best Of The Year lists I’ve seen so far.

Released during lockdown in January, the gripping folk music from the Sheffield-based troubadour was the perfect soundtrack to those dark days. Tracks such as the enormous Stolen Ground — a commentary on Tory austerity — and the Barry Hines-quoting Beneath The Willow are imbued with an urgency and menace that brings to mind Martin Carthy’s Dominion Of The Sword.

John Francis Flynn’s I Would Not Live Always (River Lea) is another hugely impressive folk suite, the Irishman bringing synths and electric guitar to bear on a suite of traditional songs, including the darkly mesmeric Shallow Brown and the anti-war tune My Son Tim.

The sophomore album from 27-year-old Sam Fender, Seventeen Going Under (Polydor), is an increasingly rare thing — new indie guitar music from a British artist that reached number one. On the rousing title track and the father-son lament Spit Of You the North Shields native paints a gutsy and emotive picture of the struggles of working-class life today: “I see my mother/The DWP see a number/She cries on the floor encumbered/I’m seventeen going under,” he sings.

Interestingly, New Jersey legend Bruce Springsteen is a huge influence on Fender, as he is on Philadelphia rock band War On Drugs, who released their fifth studio record, I Don’t Live Here Anymore (Atlantic Records) in October.

With Adam Granduciel at the helm, the set continues with their winning formula of combining classic Heartland Rock with an indie sensibility and some devilishly propulsive motorik rhythms.

It might not quite match the widescreen, existential soundscapes of 2017’s A Deeper Understanding but that’s more about praising their career high point rather than a criticism of their new work.

Two very different soulful albums from the US south impressed this year. I Know I’m Funny Ha Ha (Secretly Canadian) from Atlanta-based singer-songwriter and homebody Faye Webster is a confessional masterpiece of loneliness and romantic longing that echoes Natalie Prass’s sublime debut.

A huge record in all senses, Valerie June’s The Moon And Stars (Prescription For Dreamers) (Fantasy) mixes soul, gospel, country, orchestral pop and blues to conjure a classic-sounding set. “Think Macy Gray and Joanna Newsom working together on a reinterpretation of Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks,” was how I described the record in my five-star Morning Star review.

Released last month, the second longplayer from Brooklyn three-piece Nation of Language, A Way Forward (PIAS), expertly harks back to the synth pop of the early 80s like Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark and New Order, and many of the artists that have followed them.

Full of yearning and emotion, frontman Ian Richard Devaney has an astonishing, soaring voice, which combined with the huge choruses and hooks makes for a dazzling release.

Two US novels made a big impression on me this year. Lauren Oyler’s Fake Accounts (Fourth Estate) is a Voice Of A Generation commentary on, among many, many things, Millennials living under the disciplinary eye of social media.

With more jokes, ideas and quotable lines on one page than many writers achieve in a whole book, the savage, brutal wit of the unnamed narrator echoes other memorable protagonists like Patrick Bateman and Holden Caulfield.

And finally, with Cop26 failing to engineer any immediate action to reduce global carbon emissions, Bewilderment (William Heinemann) by Richard Powers seems very timely. A much smaller book in length and cast list than his 2018 tour de force The Overstory, like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road his latest book focuses on the touching relationship between a father and son and how they deal with the worsening climate and ecological crisis enveloping the US and wider world.

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