We're a few days into 2022 but we've still got a few Best of 2021 artist lists to share with you. This one is from Ben Jones who's been recording as Constant Smiles for more than a decade, having self released a dozen or so albums via Bandcamp ranging from scuzzy low-fi noise to much more polished records like 2019's synthy John Waters and 2020's dark, folky Control. Constant Smiles released Paragons last year via Sacred Bones which is a terrific collection of dark, dreamy folk-rock. If you haven't checked it out, listen below.

As for Ben's list of 2021 faves, he says, "2021 was such a great year for music and so many incredible things came out. It was so hard to narrow it down and I am sure I am forgetting some but here is a list of the things that really hit me." Check out his list below.


1. Cassandra Jenkins - An Overview on Phenomenal Nature (Ba Da Bing)
Literally one of the most beautiful records I have ever heard. It stopped me cold and I couldn't stop listening to it. The perfect blend of everything I love. Catchy earworm pop hooks, transcendental meditative ambience, personal lyrics from the heart that invite you into a world and make you feel like you know who they are, shredding solos, jazzy horns, beautiful string arrangements... Just a perfect record. That last track really makes the record for me.

2. Spellling - The Turning Wheel (Sacred Bones)
One of the most epic records I have ever heard. The first song "Little Dear" really says it all in what kind of journey you are about to go on. It really is like a movie that you don't want to miss a second of. Beautiful harmonies, strings, horns, incredible synth tones, and that voice...wow so beautiful. What more could you want from a record?

3. Hand Habits - Fun House (Saddle Creek)
Hand Habits is my favorite current song writer and I really love this new record. I was obsessed with Placeholder but I think this record goes somewhere different that I really like. I love all of the synth work on this. It really gets me bopping around. I always find it hard to blend synths and acoustic guitar songs so I think they really nailed it on this. The drums also sound amazing too. Favorite track is "The Answer."

4. Izzy Johnson - Earth Tones (Driftless Recordings)
This record really blew me away and I can't stop telling people about it! It is such a beautifully dreamy meditative record that calms me and makes me feel like I am driving around Martha's Vineyard in the winter. Beautiful nylon guitar finger picking with ethereal soundscapes around it and beautiful floaty vocals.

5. Doja Cat - Planet Her (RCA)
I don't dance much but this record literally gets me moving every time I put this on. It is SO good! And it has The Weeknd on it who is my favorite!

6. L'Rain - Fatigue (Mexican Summer)
L'rain is one of my favorite artists. Both of her records are perfect. This new record is so cool and so dazzling. It's like watching the best fireworks display. I am obsessed with the production - everything is so compacted and full, yet each element holds its own space. The whole thing flows together perfectly from start to finish, going from blasts of chaos, to smooth grooves, to heavy hits, to floaty ambiance.

7. Claire Rousay - A Softer Focus (American Dreams)
Such a beautiful record that really envelopes you and lulls you into a warm trance. It feels like the best soundtrack to a perfect film. Narrative field recordings, beautiful strings, lush piano, some subtle hyperpop vocals, soft and understated yet spacious to give you the feeling of floating. A record I keep coming back to to ease my mind.

8. Rachika Nayar - Fragments (RVNG)
I am SO jealous of this record! Trance inducing guitar loops that are so precise and focused with deep rich synths that carry you downriver. The riffage on this record is truly insane, so beautiful.

9. Sarah Mary Chadwick - Me And Ennui Are Friends, Baby (Ba Da Bing)
Such a heartbreakingly raw, stripped back, to the point, cutting record with so many good lines. I also loved how her limited edition of the record was individual paintings she did. I was so happy to get one of those. They are beautiful!

10. Willy Mason - Already Dead (Grandma's Basement)
Willy is one of my favorite people and has been such a big inspiration to me. This seems like such a refreshing shift from the rest of his records. It just sounds like it was so much fun to make, with a real experimental pop production spin on it by Noel Heroux (Hooray for Earth, Mass Gothic). Folky soulful pop with drum machiney drums, poppy synths, great backing vocals, groovy grooves, and of course that unforgettable Willy Mason voice!

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