AF 2021 IN REVIEW: Our Favorite Albums & Singles of The Year

If you went into 2021 with high expectations, you weren’t alone. Even if it was hard to feel optimistic this time last year, it certainly seemed as if things could get no worse. Live music did return, after all – though with the appearance of Delta, and now Omicron, the joyful noise comes with a caveat. After sixteen months of having to livestream shows (fun, but not the same) little could stop me from attending shows in person; wearing a mask as an extra precaution felt like no big deal, even if no one else was doing it. But luck (and vaccines) feel like the real reason I emerged unscathed from dozens of risky experiences, and with performances on the horizon canceled once again, maybe it’s wise to enter 2022 with slightly lower expectations.

There’s always recorded music, anyhow. Maybe the tumult of the year just has me personally feeling a bit unfocused, but it seems as though I barely scaled the mountain of this year’s musical offerings without getting a bit buried in the avalanche of releases – ones that had been pushed back, ones that were created in lockdown. I’ll be playing catch up well into the new year, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t gems I connected with almost immediately, and very deeply. And that’s what I’ve heard across the board, from those in the industry as well as casual music fans – is that our favorites this year stayed on heavy rotation, as we latched onto music that accurately reflected our moods, which evolved moment to moment and of course happened to be different for all of us at any given time. What does that mean for year-end lists? Audiofemme has always compiled an eclectic list, including favorites from each of our contributors without overall rank – consider any repeats to be the best of the best. But this year, the list seems even more diverse, meaning there’s a wealth of weird and wonderful music below to discover, dear reader. Thanks for sticking with us through another wild year.


  • Marianne White (Executive Director)
    • Top 10 Albums:
      1) PinkPantheress – to hell with it
      2) Mdou Moctar – Afrique Victime
      3) Low – Hey What
      4) Jazmine Sullivan – Heaux Tales
      5) Julien Baker – Little Oblivions
      6) Dawn Richard – Second Line: An Electro Revival
      7) Indigo De Souza – Any Shape You Take
      8) aya – im hole
      9) Flock of Dimes – Head of Roses
      10) Tyler, the Creator – CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST
    • Top 5 Singles:
      1) Japanese Breakfast – “Be Sweet”
      2) Loraine James (feat. Eden Samara) – “Running Like That”
      3) Hand Habits – “More Than Love”
      4) Sharon Van Etten & Angel Olsen – “Like I Used To”
      5) Julien Baker – “Faith Healer (Half Waif Remix)”

  • Lindsey Rhoades (Editor-in-Chief)
    • Top 10 Albums:
      1) Low – Hey What
      2) Tirzah – Colourgrade
      3) Nana Yamato – Before Sunrise
      4) Emma Ruth Rundle – Engine of Hell
      5) Jane Weaver – Flock
      6) Tonstartssbandht – Petunia
      7) Arlo Parks – Collapsed in Sunbeams
      8) Squirrel Flower – Planet (i)
      9) Veik – Surrounding Structures
      10) Cassandra Jenkins – An Overview on Phenomenal Nature
    • Top 10 Singles:
      1) Sharon Van Etten & Angel Olsen – “Like I Used To”
      2) Special Interest – “All Tomorrow’s Carry”
      3) Squid – “G.S.K.”
      4) Julien Baker – “Bloodshot”
      5) Mandy, Indiana – “Bottle Episode”
      6) Remember Sports – “Pinky Ring”
      7) Cedric Noel – “Comuu”
      8) Gustaf – “Mine”
      9) June Jones – “Therapy”
      10) MAN ON MAN – “Stohner”

  • Mandy Brownholtz (Marketing Director)
    • Top 5 Albums (in no particular order):
      Spellling – The Turning Wheel
      King Woman – Celestial Blues
      Macy Rodman – Unbelievable Animals
      Marissa Nadler – The Path of the Clouds
      Kinlaw – The Tipping Scale
    • Top 3 Singles (in no particular order):
      Often – “Deep Sleep”
      Mannequin Pussy – “Control”
      Spice – “A Better Treatment”


  • Alexa Peters (Playing Seattle)
    • Top 10 Albums:
      1) Wye Oak – Cut All The Wires: 2009-2011
      2) Dori Freeman – Ten Thousand Roses
      3) Isaiah Rashad – The House Is Burning
      4) Fawn Wood – Kåkike
      5) Carmen Q. Rothwell – Don’t Get Comfy / Nowhere
    • Honorable Mention: Mike Gebhart – Co-Pilot 
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) Doja Cat (feat. SZA) – “Kiss Me More”
      2) Mitski – “Working for the Knife”
      3) DoNormaal – “Baby May”

  • Cat Woods (Playing Melbourne)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Deap Vally – Marriage
      2) Mod Con – Modern Condition
      3) Laura Stevenson – Laura Stevenson
      4) Joan As Police Woman – The Solution is Restless
      5) Black Country, New Road – For the first time
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) Black Country, New Road – “Sunglasses”
      2) Lana Del Rey – “Dealer”
      3) jennylee – “Tickles”

  • Liz Ohanesian (Contributor)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Hackedepicciotto — The Silver Threshold
      2) Saint Etienne — I’ve Been Trying to Tell You
      3) L’impératrice — Take Tsubo
      4) Pearl and the Oysters— Flowerland
      5) Nuovo Testamento — New Earth
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) Midnight Magic – “Beam Me Up” 
      2) Jessie Ware – “Please”
      3) Gabriels – “Love and Hate in a Different Time (Kerri Chandler Remix)”  

  • Gillian G. Gaar (Musique Boutique)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Dolphin Midwives — Body of Water
      2) Sarah McQuaid — The St. Buryan Sessions
      3) Low — Hey What 
      4) Witch Camp — I’ve Forgotten Now Who I Used to Be 
      5) Full Bush — Movie Night
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) Maggie Herron — “Sweet Lullaby”
      2) Sleater-Kinney — “High in the Grass”
      3) ONETWOTHREE — “Give Paw” 

  • Jason Scott (Contributor)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Jetty Bones – Push Back
      2) M.A.G.S. – Say Things That Matter
      3) Lyndsay Ellyn – Queen of Nothing
      4) Kacey Musgraves – star-crossed
      5) Christian Lopez – The Other Side
    • Top 5 Singles:
      1) Hayes Carll – “Help Me Remember”
      2) Jake Wesley Rogers – “Middle of Love”
      3) Adele – “To Be Loved”
      4) Carly Pearce – “What He Didn’t Do”
      5) Kacey Musgraves – “what doesn’t kill me”

  • Michelle Rose (Contributor)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Alex Orange Drink – Everything Is Broken, Maybe That’s O​.​K.
      2) Billie Eilish – Happier Than Ever
      3) Kacey Musgraves – star-crossed
      4) Magdalena Bay – Mercurial World
      5) Japanese Breakfast – Jubilee
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) Blonder – “Ice Cream Girl” 
      2) Mitski – “The Only Heartbreaker”
      3) Kristiane – “Better On Your Own”  

  • Victoria Moorwood (Playing Cincy)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Polo G – Hall of Fame
      2) Benny the Butcher & Harry Fraud – The Plugs I Met 2
      3) Megan Thee Stallion – Something For Thee Hotties
      4) Pooh Shiesty – Shiesty Sessions
      5) blackbear – misery lake
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) Benny the Butcher & Harry Fraud – “Thanksgiving”
      2) Lil Nas X (feat. Jack Harlow)  – “INDUSTRY BABY”
      3) 24kGoldn (feat. Future) – “Company”

  • Jamila Aboushaca (Contributor)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Kacey Musgraves – star-crossed
      2) Snoh Aalegra – Temporary Highs in the Violet Skies 
      3) Lil Nas X – Montero
      4) Darkside – Spiral
      5) Blu DeTiger – How Did We Get Here EP
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) Kaytranada (feat. H.E.R.) – “Intimidated”
      2) Kacey Musgraves – “simple times”
      3) Snoh Aalegra – “In Your Eyes”

  • Sophia Vaccaro (Playing the Bay)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Aly & AJ – A Touch of the Beat Gets You Up on Your Feet Gets You Out and Then Into the Sun
      2) Julia Wolf – Girls in Purgatory (Full Moon Edition)
      3) Megan Thee Stallion – Something For Thee Hotties
      4) Lil Mariko – Lil Mariko
      5) Destroy Boys – Open Mouth, Open Heart
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) daine – “dainecore”
      2) Julia Wolf – “Villain”
      3) Doja Cat – “Need To Know”

  • Sam Weisenthal (Contributor)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Indigo De Souza – Any Shape You Take
      2) Katy Kirby – Cool Dry Place
      3) Mega Bog – Life, and Another
      4) Ada Lea – one hand on the steering wheel the other sewing a garden
      5) Olivia Kaplan – Tonight Turns to Nothing
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) Charlotte Cornfield – “Drunk For You” 
      2) Dora Jar – “Multiply”
      3) Joe Taylor Sutkowski, Dirt Buyer – “What Luck, Goodbye”  

  • Sara Barron (Playing Detroit)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) PinkPantheress – to hell with it
      2) Summer Walker – Still Over It
      3) Erika de Casier – Sensational
      4) Jazmine Sullivan – Heaux Tales
      5) Adele – 30
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) Lana Del Rey – “Dealer”
      2) Liv.e – “Bout It”
      3) SZA – “I Hate U”

  • Eleanor Forrest (Contributor)
    • Top 5 Albums:
      1) Arlo Parks – Collapsed in Sunbeams
      2) CL – ALPHA
      3) My Life As Ali Thomas – Peppermint Town
      4) Halsey – If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power
      5) Remember Sports – Like a Stone
    • Top 3 Singles:
      1) FKA twigs (feat. Central Cee) – “Measure of a Man”
      2) Sabriel – “Pulse”
      3) Lexie Liu – “有吗炒面 ALGTR”

Mandy, Indiana Snarl Into Sonic Techno-Punk Fury On Their Frenetic, Fiery Debut EP

Photo Credit: Holly Whitaker

It is in the early hours of morning, sweaty with glitter and eyeliner smudged over your face, having lost your car keys and ID hours ago, that Mandy, Indiana want to come right up, take your face in their hands and devour you with their gristly, abrasive, angular, industrial techno. There’s a violence within their music that is tempered by Valentine Caulfield’s sultry, low octave spoken word-song. It’s immersive, propulsive and driving – and Fire Talk unleashes the band’s three-song debut EP (including two remixes) November 19.

When we connect via phone to chat, Caulfield is staying at her parent’s home in Brittany, in North Western France. It’s the first time she’s left her adopted home of Manchester since February 2020, and she’ll only be there another day before visiting her grandmother in the city she was born and raised in, Paris, before returning to the UK. Along with being the theatrical frontwoman of Mandy, Indiana, she works in a café part-time while completing her Masters in Journalism full-time.

“This EP is a weird kind of collection of moments of us as a band, which I really like,” she says of the five tracks, crafted during lockdowns. “We’d only just started working with Fire Talk, [so] we didn’t really know what was gonna happen.”

Guitarist and producer Scott Fair and vocalist Caulfield first met in 2016, when both were still in other bands on a shared bill at Aatma, a venue in Manchester’s Northern Quarter. Fair posted a rave review of Caulfield’s band on social media and they began messaging each other, occasionally ending up on shared bills, before Fair reached out with the proposition of forming a band at the end of 2017. And thus, Mandy, Indiana began.

Their modus operandi of working remotely, as Caulfield explains, kept them productive through the pandemic, but it was borne of convenience since both she and Fair have other commitments, as do the more recent members of the band, drummer Liam Stewart and Simon Catling on synths (Fair runs a business and has three kids; Stewart is a member of various other bands, and Catling works as a promoter).

“The EP is a collection of bits from our band throughout the past year and a half,” explains Caulfield. “‘Nike of Samothrace’ was written and recorded entirely throughout the first lockdown. Scott sends me demos, the rough idea for a song, I listen to it maniacally on repeat to put me in a state of mind to write all the vocals and lyrics.”

Fair built the other compositions and arrangements, meticulously sorting through demos and recordings to layer melody over noise, slashing through it with dissonant fuzz and fraying here and there. Each time, Caulfield improvised her lyrics in French and delivered them in her low-octave, melodic spoken word, with malevolent, furied levity. The guitars and drums were recorded live, with the remaining instrumental arrangements composed digitally. The idea was always to write music that would translate to a live environment, explains Caulfield. “Originally the plan was that we’d play to backing tracks, but we’ve been able to replicate almost exactly the EP [in our live shows], except for ‘Bottle Episode’ where the bass is a backing track.”

The band have been gigging, and will be joining The Horrors for a couple of shows in the UK in December. They’ve also been winning fans through exposure on prominent US and UK radio, including KEXP and BBC.

It was the remix of “Alien 3” by the band’s musical hero, Daniel Avery, that debuted the band on Mary Anne Hobbs’ BBC6 radio show in September this year. “We’re all big fans of Daniel Avery’s music,” enthuses Caulfield. “As early as this year, in March or April, we got a notification on the band’s Instagram that Daniel Avery was following us – so we had a freak out about it on group chat.”

Having discussed their plan to have an EP made up of three tracks and two remixes with their label, they took the leap of asking their ideal collaborator. They messaged Avery, and within a few days his “Alien 3” remix was complete. “It was really, really hard for me to not play it to every single person I know,” says Caulfield. After Hobbs had played the track on her show, Caulfield tweeted the radio DJ to ask if she’d play the original, too. It worked.

Hobbs has also since played the final track the band recorded – “Bottle Episode,” in which a raucous percussive clash and clang works its way into a muscular rhythm, underpinning a serpentine, writhing, breathless vocal mantra in French. The track, with its militant drumming, snarling synths and gothic-sexy-Euro chic vocals epitomises the sound and vibe of the band. They’ve achieved a sense of spaciousness, both physical and audible, but also ephemerally.

It was recorded in the confines of rehearsal rooms and home studios, but elsewhere, tracks were recorded in industrial mills, high-ceilinged buildings and halls. “We always try to find spaces that we think are gonna suit the sounds that we want. We’re not the kind of band – not that there’s anything wrong with it – that records in a studio where it’s spotless and perfect. There’s something inherently visceral and dirty to our music so we try to find spaces that reflect that,” she says.

The drums for “Alien 3” and “Nike of Samothrace” were recorded in an old warehouse-cum-arts space. The drums for “Bottle Episode” were recorded in the corridors of the building they rehearse in, an old mill. It imparts a “naturally spooky feel,” as Caulfield puts it. While she recorded her vocals for the other two tracks in a practice space into a mic, she is proud of the clarity she achieved in recording the “Nike” vocals into her iPhone in the middle of lockdown.

It’s hard to imagine, when listening to the abrasive, punkish, dark techno of Mandy, Indiana, that their frontwoman was once a fervent member of the neighbourhood choir at age six and a classical singing student for a selective musical academy in Paris throughout her high school years. What makes more sense is that she quit music school when she discovered The Sex Pistols, The Clash, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, “and some really, really bad emo bands” toward the end of high school. Those early years, studying opera and her undergraduate degree in literature, languages and history, are not lost on her performance though.

“If you ever get to catch a live show, and I hope you do, I’m always wearing something completely stupid but the guys look like three regular white dudes. It’s an inside joke – ‘what’s she gonna wear this time?’” she laughs.

She’ll have to save the most outrageous outfits for next year. The band have just revealed that they have been invited to take part in SXSW in 2022.

“If you’d told Scott and I we’d be going to Texas a couple of years ago, we’d have said ‘Nah, you’re insane,’” Caulfield muses. “We’re enjoying the high.”

Follow Mandy, Indiana on Instagram for ongoing updates.