Needle In The Groove’s Top 10 Albums of 2021

My top 10 albums of 2021.

Well grapple fans (an up to date reference for the kids!), here we are at the dying embers of 2021 and thinking at the same time last year we were all predicting we would all be back to normal, everyone fully vaccinated and living like to the full. Well thanks to Covid-19 mutating like, well Covid-19, here we are a year down the line, all pretty much locked up as we were last Christmas. Gigs opened up for a couple of months and I snuck in 3 before the UK government made it pretty much impossible to go see a gig from Boxing Day onwards.

Thankfully bands didn’t let this affect them and it was a very strong year for releases. Most of the bands on this list were albums purchased in 2021, so there will not be a review on the site for further details. Where there is a review I will attach a link. It’s far from me to criticise, so if you have brought an album out in 2021, well done to you all.

It was also good to hear only yesterday that vinyl sales were up in the UK, with them making up 23% of all sales, which is 14 years of continuous growth, and CDs seeing the lowest number of sales since 1984, just one year after they were introduced to the UK. This increase is probably down to two factors – Adele and Abba. I don’t think my haul of over 200 albums bought in 2021 made a dent in the numbers.

I’m sure vinyl sales would be a lot higher were it not for manufacturing issues, PVC shortages and the fact that demand is outstripping supply by 2:1. If you have a spare couple of million lying down the back of the sofa, build a vinyl pressing plant. You can’t fail. For some reason, probably because they were part of a ‘bundle’, over 190,000 tapes were sold in 2021, their biggest selling year since 2003. When compared to the streaming monsters however, its bugger all as the likes of Spotify, Amazon, Deezer etc etc had an 81% share of the market.

Anyway onto my top 10 albums of 2021……

10. Lifesigns – Altitude

I was new to the Lifesigns party in 2021 but even from the first listen I was hooked. Its a really great album, and John Young is now a firmly established name in the Chesworth household.

9. The Dead Daisies – Holy Ground

The Dead Daisies were good, then they became excellent. Why? Well Glenn bloody Hughes only went and joined them. The ‘voice of rock’ added his Glenn Hughes-ness to TDD and the result is the fab. The man is the Tinkerbell of rock, adding a drop of fairydust to take TDD up a notch above anything they had done before this point

8. Thunder – All the Right Noises

Considering I was at their last ever gig a few years back, Thunder’s return and resurgence has been a great one, with ATRN sitting nicely near the summit of Thunders best works. It’s that good.

7. Dirty Honey – ST

Dirty Honey hit the ground running with their cracking EP. Their debut album picks up where the EP left off. Self produced and financed, they want to take care of their own destiny. In Mark LaBelle they have a singer who can challenge some of the greats. 70s rock is alive and well. (Fun fact – their single from the EP ‘When. I’m Gone’ was the first ever single from an unsigned band to top the Billboard Rock Chart). My only gripe is the album is too short! I’ve had longer shits.

6. The Night Flight Orchestra – Aeromantic II

If your idea of melodic rock heaven is parpy keyboards and songs that sound like they were written and performed in the 1980s, then look no further. TNFO make every song sound like it was written for the Rocky film franchise and 80s B movies when the likes of Paul Sabu, Lion and Stan Bush were regular contributors.

5. Myles Kennedy – The Ides Of March

This is the album I waited 11 years for. Myles’s debut was good and all, but with TIOM he came out of the blocks like a stabbed rat. More power and welly, and in the title track, he has a song that is a close second to ABs Blackbird. ‘The Ides Of March’ track is completely all over the place. No wonder he hardly plays it live, but when he does…..its a thing to behold.

4. Leprous – Aphelion

Leprous is another bands that I came to the party late with. Having heard ‘Pitfalls’ first, I was smitten. With ‘Aphelion’, the feeling was identical. I can see why fans are not too hot when comparing the 5 albums before ‘Pitfalls’ to the latter two new ones, but for me ‘Aphelion’ is a brilliant album. OK its all about Einar Solberg and he clearly holds the keys to the castle, but the performances of all the guys is something to behold. They are brilliant, and they bloody well know it.

3. Plush – ST

I’ve been a fan of Moriah Formica’s ever since she appeared on a Michael Sweet album back in 2016. She is a very talented singer/songwriter and when someone of her age can tackle Ann Wilson songs with ease, you know they are special. She is surrounded with some amazing talent in Plush – Brook Colucci, Ashley Suppa, and Bella Perron. Considering they were all under 21 when the album dropped in October, the results are stunning. A band so young shouldn’t be this good with their first album.

2. Iron Maiden – Senjutsu

OK its another dinosaur of a band up at the sharp end of the poll for the second year running. After a 6 year gap Iron Maiden didn’t need to ever make an album again. But they did, and its a belter. OK, its no ‘Powerslave’ or ‘Piece Of Mind’. Its about as diverse as Steve Harris and Iron Maiden get, and that is a good thing indeed

  1. Nestor – Kids In A Ghost Town

This album simply ticked all the boxes for me – great gongs, great vocals, set in the 80s and some of the best videos this side of Van Halen and David Lee Roth. A lot of bands try to recreate the 80s heydays but few succeed. Lets face it, some of the lyrics are corny, but they are delivered in a style and knowing nod to the past that you are just swept along for the ride. The sign of a good album is one you can’t stop playing, and with KIAGT its hardly been off rotation. They even roped in Sam Fox for the best ballad I’ve heard in a number of years, ’Tomorrow’. I can’t wait for album No.2

Leprous – ‘Aphelion’ Album Review

Leprous – Aphelion

If Leprous was a party, I arrived that late, I got there after the parents arrived home to find their house trashed. I had never heard of them until I was sent their last album (Pitfalls) to review. But what was to be an inspired decision by me (and Leprous) was an album that was totally different to most of what Ive been listening to for the last 40+ years and it just blew me away. Few bands and albums have done this since I started reviewing back in 2007. I went out and bought the back catalogue, few bands make me do this. They were more metal over the albums predating Pitfalls, but like Opeth a chance has occurred, and for me it is an inspired change.

In fact they are a band I never thought possible that I would ever listen to, a fact that my wife pointed to one day asking me why I was listening to ‘this’ ( a song from Pitfalls that randomly popped up in the car). I said that it was just ‘wonderful’, I couldn’t explain fully, I just muttered ‘its wonderful’ and we left it at that.

So here we are mid/pre/post (delete as appropriate) Covid 19 and we have the follow up to Pitfall, Aphelion. Aphelion is the point in the Earths orbits that is farthest from the Sun, which in 2021 was Monday 5th July. Enough fact learning people, let’s get into the detail.

The first three singles have been Castaway Angels, a 6 minute effort that glides by and sees Leprous throw the kitchen sink at it. If Leprous could get a tune out of a kitchen sink, I’m sure they would use it as a viable instrument! Baard Kolstad’s drumming is sublime and Einar Solberg’s vocals are simply to die for. It’s a piece that just flies by and you can only reply appreciate the band for what they are by watching the video and absorbing yourself in the song. Running low is the other single and is quite dramatic, one minute groggy, then the chorus of ‘Its a miracle, miracle, miracle…’ being an ear worm of the highest order, but also very, pop and also cinematic. In face their songs would certainly elevate any pice of cinema that they could become attached to. The third single ‘The Silent Revelation’ is a huge piece and encompasses Leprous. Its the best song on the album and I would direct any future Leprous virgin to dive in with this track. Its heavy, nuanced and Solberg’s falsetto take it up a level,  finishing with a choral falsetto!

‘Out Of Here’ is more subdued but is no less enthralling thanks to Solbergs vocals, until we get to the mid section where the bridge ramps up the heaviness. ‘Silhouette’ has a strong synth opening before introducing strings to complement the synths. ‘All The Moments’ kicks off with Kolstads drumming at the forefront. It’s (almost) a slow burn, but when it steps up to the plate is does so in dramatic fashion. ‘Have You Ever?’ is one of the softer songs, but still packs a punch one you dive in to the quality musicianship.  ‘The Shadow Side’ is about coming to terms with yourself and being yourself. It is dramatic and ends with s searing guitar solo. ‘On Hold’ is an almost 8 minute epic where it is essentially ‘The Einar Show’. Insecurities, doubt, and identity are at the heart of this and its felt through Solberg’s delivery. ‘Nighttime Disguise’ is the last song and arrives quickly. Its the heaviest song by far. Its as close to convention rock as these guys get, with date I say it, crooning before the obligatory falsetto. I cracking end to a cracking album. The vinyl and Mediabook CD contain two extra tracks, a live version of ‘Acquired taste’ and ‘A Prophecy To Trust’ 

Gill is right. its a band I would never have entertained before at any point in my music listening life, but I think I jumped in at the correct time with Pitfalls, because Aphelion has taken this band up another lever which I didn’t think was possible. 

Its hard for me to label Leprous, which is good because I hate labels! It is a sound that is ephereal, expanding, almost heavenly, and is neither rock, nor prog, or anything else. Its just simply…..Leprous.

The best way I can describe Aphelion, it feels like a best of album, and that in itself is remarkable. Its music that is delicate, balanced, sways from pop to rock, sometimes in the same sentence and just sweeps the listener away and is one of the finest albums of 2021


Tracklisting –

Running Low

Out Of Here


All The Moments

Have You Ever?

The Silent Revolution

The Shadow Side

On Hold

Castaway Angels

Nighttime Disguise

The band

Einar Solberg – Vocals/Keys

Simen Børven – Bass

Robin Ognedal – Guitars

Baard Kolstad – Drums

Tor Oddmund Suhrle – Guitars