Few would call 2021 a happy year, although it was graced by moments of hope: a (short lived) political shift, a vaccine, a summit on climate change. But somehow, without warning, any day could bring a whiff of happiness: a reunion with a friend or family member, the reopening of a cherished location, the simple pleasures of sun and surf.
Music is itself a source of joy. Even dark music has its own appeal, offering solace and empathy in times of darkness. But happy music is written specifically to spark feelings of warmth and hope. 2021’s selection crosses multiple genres while sharing an overall tone: shimmering like the sun breaking through the clouds, good news borne over the mountains, the first good day after a series of sorrows.
Ben Seretan ~ Cicada Waves (NNA Tapes)
Rain, cicadas, more rain. That’s how Josh Hughes describes the aptly-titled Cicada Waves, in which Ben Seretan makes the most of his environment, inviting it to become part of the composition. Cicadas emerge only once every seventeen years; they must have been happy to be included!
Closet Disco Queen & The Flying Raclettes ~ Omelette du Fromage (Hummus)
Loud, proud, cheesy and unapologetic, this dairy-based album is the personification of fun. Based on an episode of “Dexter’s Laboratory,” the set rocks from beginning to end, daring listeners not to break out the air guitar. Resistance is futile.
Explosions in the Sky ~ Big Bend (An Original Soundtrack for Public Television)
Perhaps it’s a surprise that Explosions in the Sky finally ended up on this chart, but the band has always had a positive patina. Now that they’ve gotten the chance to score a nature documentary, they’ve risen to the occasion with a set that exudes the awe of seasons in the great outdoors.
Francisco Sonur ~ Morning Trials (Time Released Sound)
The album was released in February, but in December the opening notes of “Jingle Bells” sound perfectly positioned. Morning Trials wishes for travel, but discovers wondrous journeys in the backyard: an intimate lesson, easy to apply to one’s own situation.
Havana Swim Club ~ S/T (Self-Released)
This year’s Perfect Summer Album is not just for summer, but of lean times when one yearns for summer, or wants to be reminded of rest, relaxation, play and peace of mind. These laid-back grooves unfurl like a mix tape, tying the decades together in a brightly colored bow.
James Osland ~ Almond Drive (Rusted Tone)
Dedicated to memories of “a safe and loving home,” Almond Drive produces a feeling of safety and warmth, celebrating the joy of human connection. The children play, the adults join in sparkling conversation and the birds sing sweetly in the trees. You’re not lost, you’re here.
Manu Delago ~ Environ Me (One Little Independent)
This album is not only positive in tone, but environmental-friendly. The videos add an extra touch of endearment, as they expose how these sounds were made: bicycle bells and wheels, trombone, and of course the composer’s ubiquitous handpan.
Past Palms ~ Empyrean (Self-Released)
Positive, spiritual, and infused with Asian flavors, Empyrean is an expression of joy, a reminder of lush rainforests and the creatures that live therein. From start to finish, this set seeks to uplift, and succeeds with a flourish.
Samuel Sharp ~ Patterns Various (Boot Cycle Audio)
Samuel Sharp celebrates simple pleasures: catching leaves, pushing swings, watching fireworks. Ebullient saxophone glides across fields of electronics, nudging the wheat to dance in the breeze, no matter the season or weather conditions.
Tommy Perman & Friends ~ Positive Interactions (Self-Released)
Send a happy message and get a happy response: an album packed with contributions from over 50 people, whose snippets were woven into a happy tapestry. As children frolic, cats play and gardens glisten, the world seems fully restored.