Friends, it’s been a wild ride for everyone, but especially musicians. Many of them sat on their releases during the pandemic and waited until live shows returned. They did not disappoint. We headbanged, we bopped, and we howled all throughout the year as artists played one thrilling release show after another. Today, we’re going over the Top 5 releases of 2021. This is the same list we curated for KKFI’s Wednesday Midday Medley as they recounted the top tracks of the year, featuring only Lawrence music acts.
2021 was rough. Are we at all surprised that it produced some great stoner doom metal? We are not. But 2021 was also a big year for Horned Wolf. They debuted at their live shows with new music and a new vocalist in tow. The Horned Wolf set at the Replay was legendary, stuff metal dreams are made of. It was headbanger heavy, but it was also a chance for the band to prove that they’re more than just their (previous) charismatic singer. We see grand things for the band in 2022 and will enjoy a metal resurgence in Lawrence.
We often like to joke that Katlyn Conroy is our resident Kate Bush. She’s got more artistic ability than she knows what to do with, and often turns around musical and art projects at the speed of light. But Cheery is one we’re hoping sticks. It’s where Conroy has finally homed in where she exists the best: as a synth player producing heartbreaking ballads (move over, Adele). If “Sad Girl Autumn” is your vibe, then enjoy a “Gloomy Girl Winter” thanks to Conroy’s piercing vocals and captivating rhythms.
Cheery is releasing more singles in the coming weeks, but for now, you can marvel at the visually stunning video for “Concept of Love.”
Is it even a year-end list if Unfit Wives aren’t included? Unfit Wives somehow managed to thrive under circumstances that were very difficult for bands otherwise. They played a successful parking lot show during the pandemic and even released an album on vinyl (most vinyl releases are way, way backed up at the moment). Live and Unfit captures the fun and naughty spirit of the Wives’ live shows, but it also allows them a chance to appear more delicate. “Pill Poppin’ Momma” and “Damn That Man” may get your blood pressure going, but “Dreamin” and “Love Havin’ Company” may very well have you dancing in your prairie dress in your living room on a Sunday morning.
Unfit Wives is also the band that won Halloween with their costumes. Here they are performing “Mama’s Kitchen” from Live and Unfit at Lucia on Halloween (it gets rowdy at 2:55 in).
The Roseline probably put out what is hands down the best album of the year with Constancy. Whenever we talk to frontman Colin Halliburton, he’s a bit shy and not too eager to open up. But he’s an open book as far as his music’s concerned, and that genuine sincerity is what draws much of the town to his music. Aside from the perfect production on Constancy, the album strikes a chord with fans (and indoctrinates new ones). It is the ultimate townie soundtrack, ripe with songs about life and its idiosyncrasies. When The Roseline played an album release show, it felt like half the town showed up.
It’s very hard to pick a favorite track on Constancy, because there are no throwaway tracks (a rarity in this day and age). Every single song hits perfectly. But we’re a little partial to the one he sang to his baby and namedrops her at the end.
Listing Cuee’s Spring release “Ain’t Going Back” featuring Joel Leoj was an absolute no-brainer. You have to understand, there was a point after vaccines but before Delta where everything in the world seemed perfect and promising. Then BAM. Cuee drops this track and the whole town is dancing. “Ain’t Going Back,” in short, is a happiness anthem.
“Ain’t Going Back” is one of two releases from his 2021 release, Gospel. It is an album full of unapologetic queer blackness. It is Cuee celebrating his trans identity, demanding a place at the table, and bringing everyone along. It is Cuee emerging as a community leader. He helped lead PRIDE, he assisted with the launch of Haus of McCoy, and he even brought RuPaul’s Drag Race Contestant Silky Nutmeg Ganache to Lawrence on more than one occasion to fundraise for the community. He has since enjoyed a short tour, and has big plans for 2022 (more on that later).
The music video reciprocates the joy Cuee has put out into the world, and we should all be so grateful that he’s sharing his successes with us here in Lawrence. If there’s one song that has acted as an anthem for 2021, it’s Cuee’s “Ain’t Going Back.”
Honorable mentions: Lonnie Fisher and the Funeral’s “Rock Till You Drop,” Chess Club’s You’re Lucky I Like You, LK Ultra’s I’m Doing This Because I Love You, and SoloHawk’s The Radio Waves and Your Movies.
Artists to watch in 2022: Jax of the Kosmos, Pala Zolo, Flash Floods, Giovanni Ventello.
As always, we compile the year’s best releases in a Spotify playlist embedded on the eXplore Lawrence playlist page. We’ve included it below.