Presenters’ Picks – 2021

Phoenix FM presenters choose their favourite albums and tracks of the year …

Adam Oliver

Album: Todrick Hall – Femuline

This album has been on non-stop in my ears this year – it celebrates everything LGBT and I think that’s why I love it so much. Todrick auditioned for American Idol all the way back in 2009 but thanks to a strong online following he is finally releasing the music that he wants to. He said himself that the album is inspired by gay pride so it’s full of dance tunes plus features appearances from Chaka Khan, Tyra Banks, Brandy, Nicole Scherzinger and Ts Madison.

If you’re wondering ‘who is Todrick Hall?’ you’ll have no doubt heard one of his tracks recently without realising – he is the sound of the Samsung mobile campaign at the moment. Catchy right?

Track: Jodie Harsh – My House

My Spotify Wrapped confirmed that this was my top song for 2021. I had played it well over 300 times which means I listened to it for 15 hours this year – quite impressive. It’s a rework of an old school disco tune – it’s what brought Jodie Harsh to the mainstream, I guess you could say.

Whenever I hear it I just want to get up and dance. There are big things to come from Jodie Harsh in 2022 and I cannot wait for it!

Alan Johnson

Album: Lil Nas X – Montero

Through who he is and some of the genres his music touches – notably hip hop and country – Lil Nas X challenges some of the prejudices that still thrive in the US as well as our own country, and I like that. His 2019 single Old Town Road holds the record for being the Billboard Hot 100’s longest-running number-one, and Montero – with its heartfelt melodies and catchy hooks – is a worthy debut album.

Track: Shane Codd – It Ain’t Right

Some years favourite track is an easy choice, but 2021 hasn’t been one of those years – with a lot music I’ve enjoyed but no track obviously standing out ahead of others. After some thought I’ve chosen the third release by the Irish producer/DJ who, I think, is set to continue making a big impression on the electronic dance music scene.

Andy Gardener

Album: Pearl Charles – Magic Mirror

It may have been released right at the start of the year but it was far from forgotten by me, a fabulous mix of 60’s/70’s California style vibes whilst single ‘Only For Tonight’ preceded the Abba revival that was to follow. I was also delighted that on the day of its release Pearl came on to my ‘Under The Radar’ show to talk about it.

Track: The Goa Express – The Second Time

Released in June this was a gorgeous slice of sunshine soaked jangly pop from a Manchester band that should do really well in 2022.

Antonia Jones

Album: Little Simz – Sometimes I Might Be Introvert

Sometimes I Might Be Introvert is the fourth studio album by British Rapper Little Simz, who brings an array of uniquenesses to the forefront. She’s a true wordsmith that uses pure authenticity and creativity to speak about the world from her own perspective, while touching on a range of themes and self-reflective memoirs.

This for me is why the award-winning artist and her new music tops my list as the album of the year.

Track: Samm Henshaw – All Good

I had the pleasure of interviewing Samm Henshaw English singer, songwriter, and record producer as the first guest for my music podcast AJ’s Soundbooth.

His song ‘All Good’ has to be my track of the year because when I heard it and his amazing soulful voice I said to myself I just have to interview him.Following my continuous radio airplay of this track out of the blue his agent contacted me and the rest is history.

Ben Simmons

Album: Billie Eilish – Happier Than Ever

Amazing lyrics throughout. Best tracks on the album for me were Getting Older, Oxytocin and Therefore I Am.

Track: Ed Sheeran – Bad Habits

I enjoyed a slightly funkier track from him. And the video of Evil Vampire Ed!

Bob Simpson

Album: St Vincent – Daddy’s Home

Love the 70s funky vibes on this album. Pastiche it may be but it’s right up my alley!

Track: Abba – Don’t Shut Me Down

Probably not the best song of the year or even the best of ABBA’s work, but for me it was just so nice to hear those familiar voices sounding so good after nearly 40 years away.

Claire Gevaux

Album: Yola – Stand By Myself

I first discovered Yola when she was on the stage with Roddy Doyle and the Lightning Seeds and friends gig at Celtic Connections in 2019. She then went on to win Album of the Year with Walk Through Fire and the incredible lead single Faraway Look. We’ve played it a lot on The Arts Programme because it gives me goosebumps every time I hear it. I’ve booked tickets to see her in July next year because frankly she can do no wrong for me.

She sounds like she’d be very comfortable singing anything by Burt Bacharach but she’s got a very contemporary sound too – mix her Bristol roots with a sprinkling of Nashville and producer Dan Auerback (Black Keys and produced the likes of Lana Del Ray, Ray LaMontagne, Dr John) and it’s another stonker of an album with Americana, country, soul, pop. And it all works incredibly well together. (Spotify link)

Track: Ciaran Lavery – Happiness

I’m breaking the rules a little bit by offering an EP!

We all needed happiness in 2021 and Northern Irish singer songwriter Ciaran Lavery never ceases to deliver for me on that front. His collaboration with Soft Sports for this EP brought his continued exploration into what makes us happy. He’s often said in interviews that he doesn’t know what happiness is ‘we’re all chasing some form of happiness down a blind alley’.

Whilst ‘Killer’ and ‘Happiness’ are slightly more introspective and melancholic, ‘First Bad Man’ is an ode to friendship and ‘I love the inevitability of death’ is a tribute to a very missed friend and the relief of ultimate acceptance and focusing on what matters. I just love everything this man produces, on his own, with others and is a shining light in a world trying to make sense of its own fragility. He’s also a genuinely really lovely guy. (Spotify link)

Daren Mootoo

Album: Dave – We’re All Alone In This Together

Dave came to my attention after that performance at Glastonbury when he dragged a fan from the crowd to join in the performance. Grime gets a lot of bad press, but Dave is among a lot of grime artists – not just Stormzy, but others like Kano – that are great storytellers and paint great lyrical pictures of the times we live in. The appropriation of one of Boris’s political slogans hits the nail bang on the head!

Track: Ed Sheeran – Bad Habits

Yes, I know I voted for Ed last year, but I genuinely did not know this track was him until someone told me, so the track stands out on its own!

Frankie Morgan

Album: Silk Sonic – An Evening With Silk Sonic

This is the debut studio album from American R&B duo Silk Sonic, otherwise known as Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak. It has such an old soul feel and the writing takes me back to where all the best music started.

Track: Silk Sonic – Leave The Door Open

The album highlight for me.

Gareth Williams

Album: Baby Queen – The Yearbook

Not only my album of the year, but also my live gig of the year; despite the at-times extremely dark lyrics, this album is a joy to listen to. Scathing, funny, vulnerable, arrogant, and everything in between, so many of the songs aren’t fit for radio play (she does like a swear, and she’s very good at it) which in some ways is a real shame. If you’re not easily offended, and you like pop music dark, give this a listen!

Track: Self Esteem – I Do This All The Time

And talking of dark pop … taken from the brilliant Prioritise Pleasure album, I remember when I first heard this, and had to play it again straight away after. The lyrics, the way it grows and grows, everything about this song just worked for me.

I sadly missed seeing her play live at Latitude, as I was interviewing at the time, but have tickets for London next year. A brilliant dark pop song. Honourable mentions – Inhaler, The Lottery Winners and The Snuts.

Gary Davidson

Album: Midwich Cuckoos – Death or Glory

We’ve played a lot of tracks on our show this year by the Midwich Cuckoos, and their 2nd album Death or Glory, was initially released separately as 2 EPs, titled Death and Glory.

It’s an album that takes influence from 80s film soundtrack nostalgia and is packed full of gorgeous vocal harmonies. With the addition of Tanzy Velayne (vocals), Rob Jones (guitar), and Dan Rouse (drums), it refines the Cuckoos unique collaborative approach to 21st century punk rock.

If Iron Maiden’s Eddie and The Terminator adopted a girl with a low attention span from the Lost Boys vampire gang, THIS is what she’d listen to.

Track: Gordon Taggart – Footsteps

My favourite single has to be “Footsteps” from Cockney Red Gordon Taggart. It was such a blinding record, that it was added to our stations A list back in July. It was released as a follow up to Gordon’s impressive debut single “Be The Ones”, which I first heard on Paul Golder’s Resurrection show, and then I played it to death on ‘Off The Record’.

Gordon has a great vocal and guitar sound, and has been gigging lately with his group The Beatones, who are a celebration of 60s British pop music. I can’t wait for him to get back into the studio in the New Year and record some more solo tracks.

George Hanlon

Album: Dave – We’re All Alone In This Together

Balances heart, raw emotion and modern fun like no other album – maybe apart from Arlo Parks.

Track: Sam Fender – Seventeen Going Under

Great song with great lyrics – from a great album of the same name.

Ian Cash

Album: Sam Fender – Seventeen Going Under

When this came out I was worried that it might not be as amazing as his first album, but it blew me away. Songs like Aye, Get You Down and Spit Of You made it an essential album in a hard year.

Track: Rag’n’Bone Man – All You Ever Wanted

It’s just sung from the heart and his voice is stunning, the album is too! 2021 has been a fab year for music!

Jo Bailey

Album: Liz Lawrence – The Avalanche

In Liz’s early days she was known as more of a folk artist, but has now blossomed into an 80s synth, guitar lickin’ prolific indie songwriter.

The Avalanche has had some criticism as the tracks aren’t the same. For me it highlights her styles and influences and also showcases her skill as a producer.

The Avalanche – recorded in ‘her coffin’, her recording studio/shed – feels like it’s a new Era for Liz. Her previous lyrics were about her life but this is a window into her looking at the world around her. Lyrics are honest and at times dark but holds hope.

If you’re a Liz Lawrence fan you’ll completely adore the album. If you’re listening to her for the first time, then welcome to the wonderful world of Liz Lawrence. There’ll be no looking back!

Track: London Grammar – How Does It Feel

This track, from the California Soil album, has a poppier feel than the indie tracks we’re used to hearing from the Nottingham band. Hannah Reid wrote the track with Steve Mac, who’s best known for working with Clean Bandit, Mabel and Ed Sheeran.

That’s where Steve Mac’s influence shines through to give it a more poppier sound. The lyrics are pretty down but the music is uplifting and the song never gets outta your head!

Hannah said “It’s the mixture of being happy and sad at the same time.” I never tire of hearing her vocals; contralto vocalists can have the most haunting vibes and this track is a total dream.

John Chubb

Album: Paul Weller – An Orchestrated Songbook

One of Britain’s biggest music legends has reworked a number of his songs from the days of The Jam through to his solo work via the Style Council era, with the backing of the BBC Symphony Orchestra and guest appearances from Boy George and James Morrison. It works brilliantly.

Track: Silk Sonic – Leave The Door Open

A terrific piece of retro-style soul.

Jon Good

Track: Elton John and Ed Sheeran – Merry Christmas

I’m going to keep my track very Christmassy seeing as it is the time of year. it’s fair to say that everything Elton John has done and Ed Sheeran has done has been a huge hit and this is no exception.

My only gripe with this track is I don’t feel it’s fast enough to dance to at Christmas parties, so I have personally remixed it and you can hear my version on Phoenix FM on Sunday mornings on all my shows around the Christmas period.

Mandy Cullen

Album: Foo Fighters – Medicine At Midnight

They always deliver – and they have done it again.

Track: Wolf Alice – Smile

Great track – love the riff and the switch up of the beat.

Michelle Ward

Album: Elton John – The Lockdown Sessions

Some wonderful reworkings of classics. Loving the Charlie Puth collaboration AFTER ALL and Dua Lipa on COLD HEART PNAU Remix. So, it’s a mix of old and new for me on the album of the year. This album reaches out across the generations.

Track: Couch the Band – Still Feeling You

I first heard this track on Instagram – just a 10 second snippet. Had to find out who the band were, buy the song and then quickly arranged an interview! This Boston-based band infuses pop songs with funk, R&B, jazz, and rock influences. The tune to me is upbeat, summer, beautiful voices, musicianship and makes you want to dance!

There is so much amazing independent music out there! I receive so much new music for the show, so it was a tough call to pick the SONG OF THE YEAR for Eat my Brunch. Notable mentions for Mayfair Lady – Reality Check, VIX 20 – Broken Melody, J Kas – Take My Breath Away and Tony Goff & the Broken Colours – Take A Gamble.

Mike Porter

Album: Billie Eilish – Happier Than Ever

I loved her Bond theme.

Track: Coldplay and BTS – My Universe

I enjoyed this so much I bought Coldplay’s older albums as I wanted to catch up on their older songs.

Nadia Harding

Album: Adele – 30

This will be a common choice but I love Adele, I confess! Ever since I saw her live as the headline act at Glastonbury I’ve been waiting for another album. This album doesn’t hold back, stories of heartbreak, haunting lyrics and the vocals are better than ever.

Track: Leslie Odom Jr – Speak Now

After falling in love with the Hamilton musical soundtrack I started listening to artists from the original cast. This song was co-written by Leslie Odom Jr and Sam Ashworth for the film One Night in Miami where Leslie plays Sam Cooke. The track is absolutely stunning.

Nick Field

Album: Rochelle Jordan – Play With The Changes

Toronto singer-songwriter Rochelle combines a soulful voice with electronic beats. I first heard a track of hers a decade ago and this album may just be her best to date. She successfully avoids being drowned out by the technics which complement the soul and emotion of her tracks shining through.

Track: Nick Cody and the Heartache – You Gotta Move

A thoughtful and self-assured track mixing harmonies with guitar and piano. I’ve interviewed Nick Cody a few times on the show this year and he has many great stories to tell from performing all over the world for many years; this track is definitely the one I keep coming back to.

Nigel Fitzmaurice

Album: Full Flava – Refreshed

A brilliant piece of R’n’B/soul, relooked at from artists who are well known and remixed in their own style. Top work.

Track: Melba Moore – So In Love

A fine, soulfully presented slow song with so much love – a different song from her normal top disco hits.

Patrick Sherring

Album: Jon Batiste – We Are

This album has received eight Grammy nominations including Album of the Year. Released in March, this is a very personal album, reflecting much of Jon’s life to date. There are influences of Soul, Gospel. jazz and funk, meaning there are a wide variety of styles. From a New Orleans marching band in the title track, to 70s soul in Freedom and funk in Tell the truth.

The duet with Zadie Smith in Show me the way, has a smooth 90s R&B feel. Every track has interesting instrumental arrangements. This has to be one of the stand-out albums of 2021.

Track: Mike Lindup – Time To Let Go

Mike’s musical career began in the 1980s as keyboard player in the commercially successful Level 42. In June he released Time to let go, which we are promised will be from an upcoming album, Changes 2. The track contrasts a fast rhythmic synth sound suggesting speed and rushing against a slow vocal about the need to let go of a life that is so busy we do not have time to appreciate what is really important.

The last year has been a time of reflection and taking stock for many people. This unconventional track points towards the need to have moments in life when we just switch off from the hectic pace.

Paul Golder

Album: Fightmilk – Contender

Perfect indie power-pop like you used to hear all the time but you don’t hear any more. It’s their second album and a big step up from their first album – which was also great – in terms of songwriting, musicianship and production. I’ve been playing this album for six months solid and it still sounds as fresh as it did on release day. Big shiny silver medal to Laura Lee and the Jettes whose album Wasteland has just been released and is also fantastic in every way.

Track: Darling Buds – Jump In

All of the charm and energy from their mid-90s heyday. Hopefully we’ll see that long-awaited new album next year.

Rob Harvey

Album: EmT – Electrical Medicine

This album shows EmT going from strength to strength with their own sound. Electrical Medicine has a gorgeous roller coaster of tracks that go from edgy pop to soulful anthems. Always hard to produce a second album but there’s a certain extra polish to this album, then there is Emma’s vocals finding new levels of class, reminding me of some of the best female vocalist of many an age. Tony’s melody lines meld beautifully together, to twirl so many of the tracks and in so many different ways- It is the right medicine.

Track: Sinestar – Breathe Again

This track seem to had come from nowhere for me and delivered up so much genuine emotion as the group said goodbye to their talented bass player. Even if you don’t know Sinestar I’m sure you will be stopped in your tracks with this wonder song.

Rob West

Album: Ed Sheeran – =

I wasn’t looking forward as much as others I knew to Ed Sheeran’s latest album. Up-tempo, inoffensive ballads created to please as many people as possible. But once I listened to Equals (=) I realised that’s not such a bad thing.

The UK hit maker has done it again with some really enjoyable tracks. There’s nothing wrong with giving people what they want – as long as you’re as talented as Ed Sheeran of course.

Track: Holly Humberstone – The Walls Are Way Too Thin

I really enjoyed being able to go to the Latitude Festival again this summer. I saw some great artists live including legends Supergrass, comedy duo Flo & Joan and innovative jazz group Ishmael Ensemble. Holly Humberstone was the one though that I have found myself listening to most outside of the Suffolk tents. Her single The Walls Are Way To Thin showcases her great talent with this catchy and yet also dark pop song, which is my single of the year.

Scott Ross

Album: Sam Fender – Seventeen Going Under

All the tracks come over with simply raw excitement. Top marks, me thinks.

Track: Coldplay and BTS – My Universe

I personally think this is one of the best tracks ever from Coldplay with tremendous production.

Spencer Carter

Album: Steps – What The Future Holds Pt 2

Everyone’s favourite pop guilty pleasure stormed back into the official album chart (narrowly missing out on the top spot – damn you Adele!) with this repackaged album full of new tracks.

Intricate harmonies and clever production maintains their quintessential sound while re-energising them to keep up with today’s modern music scene.

Standout tracks include their version of Five Stars “The Slightest Touch”. A stunning return to form.

Track: Sam Ryder – More

This track by the relatively new artists, Sam Ryder, was an instant hit for me. Catchy, clever with a killer hook it demonstrates a vocal range that’s out of this world and an angst ridden delivery while still maintaining that essential “pop” feel that I know and love. Check out his cover of Kate Bush’s “This Woman’s Work” as well – stunning.

Steve Roach

Album: Elton John – The Lockdown Sessions

It’s producing hit after hit with some brilliant reworking, remixing and duets.

Track: Dua Lipa – Levitating

Uplifting, but then it would be given its title!

Steve Robertson

Album: The War On Drugs – I Don’t Live Here Anymore

The album I’ve listened to most for the past year. It is similar in sound to their last album, A Deeper Understanding and that album won a Grammy. For me it’s an enjoyable listen, with the title track being one of the stand-out songs on the album.

Track: The Sherlocks – City Lights

I’ve been listening to this track since Stewart Pink interviewed Kiaran from the band in September. It’s the stand out track of the year for me.

Stewart Pink

Album: Greta Van Fleet – The Battle At Garden’s Gate

Still awaiting results of a DNA test to determine whether these guys are direct descendants of Led Zeppelin but as far as the music goes – they’re the second coming. This album has everything I loved about the led growing up and more. With tracks like Broken Bells & The Weight Of Dreams reaching a level of epic rock that both Plant and Page would be proud to finish a headline set on. Sure, it’s essentially classic rock but it’s back – and it’s as good as ever!

Honourable mentions for my album of the year go to The Dead Daisies, The Blue Stones, Anne Chmelewsky, Sam Fender, Dead Reynolds, Planet Fatale, Oscar Lang & The Matchstick Skeletons.

Track: Frank Turner – Haven’t Been Doing So Well

An anthem for anyone who’s ever doubted themselves, Frank’s lyrical breakdown of complex emotions like anxiety and depression culminates in a beautifully simple summary – I haven’t been doing so well – something we could all do with admitting sometimes! Some songs help us to escape and forget our troubles, others help us capture emotions, identify and process our feelings – this one should be available on prescription!

When I interviewed Frank about this song and FTHC, the upcoming album it’s taken from, he told me that it’ll be his most personal album yet – I’ve always found his lyrics incredibly powerful so I’ve no doubt it’ll be an early contender for next year’s album of the year!

Honourable mentions for my song of the year go to The Sherlocks, Vix20, Sophie Griffiths, Gold Baby, Ocean Flaws & Sigrid.

Tony Smith

Album: Lil Nas X – Montero

Montero is the debut studio album from the American rapper and singer and was released in the latter part of this year on September 17th. The album is titled after his given name and spawned several UK No 1 tracks.

Track: Doja Cat – Woman

Best single goes to a song that has been No 1 on my DJ Pub n Club hot list, not a gig goes by without a request for ‘Woman’ by the American rapper and singer. Taken from her third studio album ‘Planet Her’ (2021).

Vic Damhar

Album: Joy Orbison – Still Slipping Vol.1

This highly recommended album is a MUST for those looking for a diverse and delicately curated mixtape, collaborating with Herron, James Massiah, Bathe, Léa Sen, Goya Gumbani and TYSON.

This is the debut full length album from Joy Orbison. The album (or mixtape as preferred by Joy) contains Joy’s family and friends, they appear throughout the album (between tracks) via a series of voice notes. This was his only contact with his family during the lockdown and shares his intimate glimpse into the personal world of Joy Orbison.

Still Slipping Vol.1 is an emotive, transient, intimate and astonishing album. A definite must-have collection from one of the UK’s electronic music pioneer.

Track: Skrillex, Starrah, Four Tet – Butterflies

Earlier this May, Skrillex collaborated with vocalist Starrah and legendary DJ/ Producer Four Tet on their track “Butterflies”.

Skrillex best known for his dubstep and electric influences creates a catch house track and teams up with Ben Strebel to produce a stunning visually choreographed video, reflecting on the impact the young generation have endured during the pandemic.

Xanthe Bearman

Album: Duran Duran – Future Past

As an 80s fan I was delighted to get the band’s new album which celebrates their 40th anniversary. Simon Le Bon’s vocals are as superb as ever – the tracks sound and feel new, but it’s very definitely still Duran Duran!!

Track: Rag’n’Bone Man and P!nk – Anywhere Away From Here

A song I played on repeat throughout the summer.

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