Best “Guitar Music” of 2021

It’s easy to overlook the guitar as a stand alone instrument as it has been overplayed and dramatized more than I care to recount. But there are breakthrough moments when it serves as a voice, rhythm, and melody, like it has for generations while also being driven further as a utility creating new sonic textures and emotions, similar to the expressiveness of a six voice synthesizer rather than the mundane strum of a G chord.

As I started to compile together my year end list I quickly realized that the majority of what I was enjoying was based around guitar performances. Rather than talk about other records that I appreciated but ultimately steered away from to feed my particular craving. So, I figured it would be best to stick to what I know. Some of these artists express the ideas of minimalism and experimentation while others are rooted more towards traditional styles but with a modern spirit, all the while bringing forth a sense of place and purpose in moments of confinement.

These are ranked in no particular order and if you care to listen along I put together a playlist with a favorite track from each of these records, enjoy.

Yasmin Williams Urban Driftwood

Yasmins compositions are purely meditative with soothing tones, texture and layers that embody a sense of familiarity but are far from derivative. This is fingerstyle guitar at its finest with complex polyrhythms blending acoustic guitar, harp guitar, kora, and kalimba with subtle variations often highlighted by Djembe, cello, and cajon. Williams’ music will persist on inspiring, showcasing her spirit throughout each movement, leading one to dig up long forgotten memories, and finding solace as they are replaced with timeless melodies and rhythms. (Spinster)

Nate Mercereau Duets | Golden Gate Bridge

A haunting display of guitar synthesizer alongside the reverberating drone of the Golden Gate bridge, which may be the largest fabricated wind organ, and conveniently powered by nature during this brief moment in time. There is a lesson to be learned here and that is to appreciate nature not only for it’s captivating beauty but also for its mysteries that lie underneath all of the darkness when faced with large standing monuments of human creation. This is truly a recorded artifact of the times we are enduring, however emotional and painful it can be, hope and beauty still emanates off in the distance. (How So)

Mdou Moctar Afrique Victim

If you’re like me and not as well versed in African music as you aspire to then I would suggest Afrique Victim as the gateway, canepaulting you into the world of West African music and culture. Mdou melds virtuosic guitar playing with hypnotic rhythms, field recordings, and noise bringing to the center a deep meditative expression that goes beyond the music. There are themes in these songs that will live on through the ages. Thank you Superwolves for pointing me in the direction of Mdou Moctar. (Matador)

Charlie Parr Last Of The Better Days Ahead

This is a poetic reflection on a life lived while also looking ahead at what’s still to come. With sparse production and gritty vocals over adept acoustic guitar playing that reverts back to old folk and blues themes, Parr says it best “…the album represents one full rotation of the boat in which we are adrift-looking ahead for a last look at the better days to come, then being turned around to see the leading edge of the past as it fades into the foggy dreamscape of our real and imagined histories.” (Smithsonian Folkway Recordings)

Jeff Parker Forfolks

This December release makes the cut and when you listen to Jeff’s playing you will understand why. A masterful improviser in jazz and experimental folk with a natural sense of ambient textures but without the splattering of effects processing. Throw this on at the start of your day, served with a morning cup of hot coffee or tea, with the sun rising and bleeding through the residual gloom of dusk, and zero ambition to complete your daily tasks. (International Anthem Recording Co.)

Steve Gunn Other You

Gunn is back with his sixth studio album packed with eleven tracks of blissful melancholy, soaked in California sun with an inspiring new approach to his music. There is a soft touch in his playing throughout this record while still holding onto a sense of clarity and brightness that will leave many wanting to stay in the moment. A perfect album to listen to while on a stroll through a beloved park on a brisk fall day. (Matador) 

Marisa Anderson & William Tyler Lost Futures

The duo’s first collaborative effort melds their singular voices into lush panoramic compositions that convey the narrative of interrupted futures with the use of textural drones, rhythmic echoes, and disruptive harmonies that embody growing tensions during uncertain times. Together they have created a body of work that not only reckons the mounting pressures but also the joys of newfound friendship and gratitude for playing music together. (Thrill Jockey)

Hayden Pedigo Letting Go

A refreshing, and modern approach to the American primitive style of guitar picking while blending experimental sound design and manipulation tactics. Pedigo possesses a lighter touch compared to the Tacoma school of thought, allowing for more dimensional soundscapes with cascading compositions that reflect a longing to escape while reconciling with the past. (Mexican Summer)

Laurel Premo Golden Loam

I will admit that I probably would not have found this album if it wasn’t for a Spotify playlist. Jericho sprung me up from my usual morning slump and closer towards my stereo, thumbing along with an acoustic to what I was hearing. I probably listened to that song forty times or so that day and it always felt like I was hearing it again for the first time. Premo focuses deeply on familiar tones rooted back in time, Golden Loam brings forth a multilayered culmination of folk with soothing drones and haunting lore, cascading dynamics and elevating warmth that will leave a lasting impression. (Laurel Premo Sound)

yes/and yes/and

A partnership between Meg Duffy (Hand Habits) and producer Joel Ford, yes/and is a result of intricate fingerpicking and detailed electronic textures. An experimental study on dissonance and beauty, with interrupted soundscapes and soothing guitar melodies all buried underneath the rubble of discarded electronics from the eighties. (Driftless)

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