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Leagues O’Toole’s top tracks of 2021

Leagues O’Toole’s top tracks of 2021

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Leagues O’Toole is a music promoter with Foggy Notions based in Dublin.


Maybe it’s because the last 18 months feel so blended, punctuated by lockdowns more so than the usual seasonal changes, I’m slightly blurry as to what music came out when. But I do know a lot of great music came out and it played a big part in keeping me sane. In contrast to the monotonous, lonely rhythms of long looping walks around parks and housing estates, loitering by the sea in the middle of the night or lying in bed staring at the ceiling, I searched for as much colour and contrast as possible in music to help me transcend the constant sense of limitation. These are some of the songs I went back to again and again because they engaged with my various reoccurring moods from deep introspection, palette cleansing noise, and uplifting escapism.


1.

Mega Bog – Station to Station


In a gloomy moment I received a message from my friend Zara that said something like “listen to new Mega Bog immediately.” Erin Birgy’s sixth album feels like a portal to another world full of abstract poetry and wild, trippy 60s tropicalia as personified on this song.

2.

L’Rain – Two Face 

To me Taja Cheek is a gift from the gods. It felt like she came out of nowhere (this is actually her second album) with this perfect tapestry of experimental pop, reflective thoughts & evocative real life sound samples. The song ‘Two Face’ I listened to over and over again marvelling at how she brings in so many styles and ideas yet it never feels cluttered. What a bloody genius.

3.

—__–___ (feat More Eaze & Seth Graham) – In Memory of Simon Kingston

For whatever reasons, I was drawn into lots of inner-looking non-pop music over the last while such as this beautiful collaborative album that skirts around the fringes of jazz and electro-acoustic music. This piece, in memoriam of gifted young musician Simon Kingston who died last year, is so beautifully introspective but also playfully littered with a range of pitch-shifted voices from a maudlin murmuring vocoder to sudden evil snarls.

4.

Loraine James – Built To Last 

The opening track from the young London producer’s latest album encapsulates that melancholic hinterland between club music and endlessly inventive off-the-beaten-track patterns. David from Foggy Notions brought Loraine’s music to my attention about a year and a half ago and there’s something about her quiet persona and visionary ability to effortlessly melt drill, R&B, grime and whatever else into the mix that is modern yet deeply personal and, obviously, reflective.

5.

HTRK – Real Headfuck

This song is a perfect example of how HTRK music has distilled over the last decade, still steeped in sad synthetic melodies but a marked shift away from electronic music to something more rooted in folk music with physical instruments yet still very minimal. I’ve been trying to bring them to Ireland for a very long time and some day I will.

6.

Cate Le Bon – Moderation

I mean, come on. She’s ridiculous. If you didn’t already recognise Cate as one of the great songwriters and producers of her generation then surely this song confirms her as a stand-alone artist. This song from the forthcoming Pompeii album is like a very lush take on 80s post-punk. I’ve listened to it for days on end, on repeat on my headphones, in the absolute horrors cancelling gigs and reflecting on personal mistakes and every time this song pulls me into its magical world and fills me with possibility again. It’s elevating. She is my hero.

7.

Geoffrey O’Connor – For As Long As I Can Remember (feat Jonnine)

A second appearance from Jonnine HTRK! This is a classic pop duet from this young Australian man, nostalgic, romantic and so smooth. A guy called Shane does A&R for Foggy Notions and this is one of the many gems that appeared in his 3am WhatsApp messages.

8.

The Weather Station – Tried to Tell You

I was going to say Robber but that came out in 2020 before the album and that song got me through the winter months. The whole album sits together beautifully as a piece so it’s hard to pick an isolated song. This song captures that AOR sensibility that trickles right through the album, which is something I really love. Tamara is one the best writers around, intelligent, meaningful and emotional.

9.

Sharon Van Etten & Angel Olsen – Like I Used To 

Two great singers come together on an indie power ballad. Although I get a sense this was all recorded remotely during lockdown, which makes it even more special. This came out of nowhere, during a very depressing time, and it just feels like Angel and Sharon are reaching their arms around everyone. I admire both of them, they are so defiantly themselves in an industry still learning how to respect and represent women.

10.

Lael Neale – For No One For Now 

Lael is one of my favourite new singers. This album is sparse, mostly drum machine, organ and voice and it moves me every time I hear it. When she sings “It’s a new day, but I’m making toast / In the Kitchen / For no one for now” I am reduced to tears. I don’t know why. It’s her voice I think. I also love Lael’s drawings and paintings.


11.

Horsegirl – Ballroom Dance Scene

My friend J (Seoda Shows in Limerick) put me onto Horsegirl. The few songs they’ve released so far are sublime. This one starts out almost like an early Belle and Sebastian song floating into view but builds into quite a noisy dense piece of music, a matter-of-fact spoken vocal over and increasingly blustery soundscape. Andy from Pretty Happy bought me the seven inch in Rough Trade, which was very sweet of him.


12.

John Francis Flynn – Lovely Joan

If nothing else is working I will go to this album, opening with this song, the comforting guitar, his perfect voice. It’s one of the great artistic achievements of 2021. In the little windows of possibility where we were able to do things in 2021 we got to work with Johnny twice, at the Dun Laoghaire Folk Festival and on his headline show in Whelan’s in November. The live shows are spiritual, fun, elevating. I think I can speak for Julie and David also when I say we feel privileged to work with an artist like that. We love him. He is the nicest man. A gentle giant.


13.

Claire Rousay – discrete (the market) 

Claire just kept popping up in 2021 in reviews and releases and I was so intrigued I just started listening to her music. It turns out she’s very prolific and her music crosses so many terrains. On this piece I’m overwhelmed at how everything comes together into this collage of field recordings and performed music. I generally listen to this whole album but it was this song that brought me in, the mesh of busy traffic, chimes, piano… I hear something new every time, or at least I imagine I do.


14.

Divide & Dissolve – Oblique

Frequently I want to hear music that is so blisteringly sensory that it obliterates all other thoughts. Divide and Dissolve do a good job of that. The Melbourne-based Cherokee and Māori duo’s powerful music calls for indigenous sovereignty and death to white supremacy through the evocative power of serene drones and punishing noise. On this opening track they serenade us with a soothing orchestral loop before pulling all four walls down on top of us. I’m excited to see them play when they tour with Low in April.


15.

Les Filles des Illighadad – Inssegh Inssegh 

It’s remarkable how, even in the age of the internet, the west is still so closed off to so many rich living traditions in music. Inssegh Inssegh is an epic 9-minutes of handclaps, hypnotic guitars and mediative tende rhythms from the third full-length Les Filles des Illighadad album. They are a unique group in the Tuareg tradition in that they are women performing traditional Saharan music with electric guitars. I’ve invited them to come to the Dun Laoghaire Folk Festival in 2022 and I really hope they accept.


16.

Arooj Aftab – Baghon Main

I think David first mentioned Arooj’s name in conversation. I became hooked very quickly on the Pakistani artist’s rich melancholic ghazal music. This is the opening song on an increasingly acclaimed album, no percussion, just harp, bass, violin, replacing traditional instruments, long drawn-out notes, a voice that transcends. It’s devastatingly sad. It’s no wonder she is becoming a global star.


17.

Circuit Des Yeux – Dogma

Huge album, every song feels like a big statement. Unlike her quieter earlier music Haley now struts with the swagger of the orchestra behind her, big rhythms to sit under huge avant-pop vocals. This is the first single from the album, a beautiful clarion call for an exceptional album.


Best of 2021 coverage.