Michigan Music: The Best of 2021


Graphics featuring the best Michigan music of 2021.

Best Michigan Music of 2021 – Story by Anne Erickson

Local Music Beat: From Billy Strings to Centenary, Audio Ink Radio names some of the best Michigan albums and singles of 2021

As the year comes to a close, we’re looking back on some of the best local, independent releases of 2021. It’s a given that Michigan is filled with talented players, and this year proves it. Read on for a collection of great albums and singles released by Michigan artists in 2021, in alphabetical order. For a discussion of the best Michigan music of 2021, listen to the podcast below at the end of the story.

Billy Strings, “Renewal”

Michigan bluegrass darling Billy Strings picked up his first Grammy Award this year for his 2019 release, “Home.” This year, Strings released his fifth studio album, “Renewal,” and it’s another masterpiece, with strong songwriting and inspired melodies.

Cavalcade, “Into Bolivian” (limited 2021 reissue)

In honor of the 13th anniversary of “Into Bolivian,” Lansing metal band Cavalcade crafted a homemade re-release of the record limited to 50 CDs. The new editions also feature a design from Michigan artist Craig Horky. How cool is it when a band puts so much love into a re-release?

Centenary, “Death…the Final Frontier”

Centenary are champions in the Detroit metal scene, with inspired, Stockholm-style death metal that keeps the listener on their toes- or, ears? The band released a new album this year, “Death…the Final Frontier,” and it marked their first on CDN Records.

The Fruits, “Benny and the Jets”

The Fruits are a Motown alt-rock group out of Detroit featuring a super cool mix of groovy sounds and styles. The band is known for their imaginative originals, but this year, they released a cover of Elton John’s “Benny and the Jets” that pays homage to the original while adding some new spice.

Harborcoat, “Joy is Elusive”

Matthew Carlson and Lansing’s Harborcoat crew released a new LP, “Joy is Elusive” this year, out on Carlson’s own record label, Phonophore Records. The album is straight from the heart, with Carlson writing about his personal life experiences, cloaked in a sea of tuneful alternative rock.

Jeremy Porter and The Tucos, “Candy Coated Cannonball”

In March 2020, shortly before the world closed down due to the pandemic, Jeremy Porter and the Tucos finished recording their new album, “Candy Coated Cannonball.” The album was uniquely recorded at Willis Sound, a converted 1895 church in Willis, Michigan. Porter and company released the set in January 2021, and it was worth the wait, featuring strong songwriting and tuneful melodies.

Mortal Disguise, “Abstract Dimensions”

Mortal Disguise hail from Detroit and craft thrash-y metal that falls somewhere between black, death and doom. The band’s debut album, “Abstract Dimensions,” features an old-school mix of classic metal sounds.

Nagazi, “March of the Serpents”

Mount Pleasant, Michigan’s Nagazi has created fiery metal music for nearly a decade. The band returned with a new EP, “March of the Serpents,” at the nod of this year, featuring a modern metal sound that’s both heavy and melodic.

Nick Behnan, “Magic Trip”

Detroit-based guitarist, multi-instrumentalist and songwriter Nick Behnan released his first-ever solo instrumental album this year, titled “Magic Trip.” The set brims with imaginative Motown, rock, funk and soul, making it an exciting listen from front to back.

Ozay Moore and Tall Black Guy (Terell Wallace), “Of Process and Progression”

“Of Process and Progression” is a triumphant collaboration from Michigan’s Ozay Moore and Tall Black Guy (Terell Wallace), featuring reflective rhymes and catchy beats. “Terell (Wallace, Tall Black Guy) and I were having conversations around the value of art, from its production to the product,” Moore explained to Audio Ink Radio. “We were talking about technology, master craftsman, analog vs. digital, streaming and the experience of putting a needle to the record, and it came to me. It sounded like a title for a novel, but we both felt it was fitting as a foundation for our collaboration, seeing as we were in sync with most of our views and perspectives related to the concept.”

The Soods, “A Ray Rewired Vol. 1 and 2”

The Soods is the brainchild of multi-instrumentalist Jason Roy, who creates melodic, introspective songs that cover the musical gamut. The Soods released two albums this year, “A Ray Rewired Vol. 1 and 2,” via GTG Records, offering listeners plenty of music to enjoy all year.

S.N.A.F.U., “Exile//Banishment”

Detroit’s S.N.A.F.U. returned in 2021 with their latest studio album, “Exile//Banishment,” out on Housecore Records in North America and Nuclear Blast in Europe. The band is known for its in-your-face, fiery live shows, and the new release captures that energy and charisma.

The Stick Arounds “Waiting for the Click”

The Stick Arounds craft catchy garage rock out of Lansing, featuring delightful instrumentation, rich harmonies and smart lyrics. The band released a new EP this year, “Waiting for the Click,” which captures their full aura.

“This Must Be the Place: Quality Hits from Lansing,” Compilation Album

There’s no denying that there’s a lot of great music out of mid-Michigan. Longtime City Pulse writer Rich Tupica released a free complication album this year that captures some of that Michigan talent, with local bands performing select tracks by artists they admire. Bands and artists on the set include Frontier Ruckus, Cavalcade, Rodeo Boys, The Plurals, Wally Pleasant, RK Andrews, Jennifer Toms, Counterpunchers, Dylan Rogers, Isaac Richmond Vander Schuur, Seth + Modern Sadness, Myron James and The Wild Honey Collective.

Upon Wings, “Eternal Way”

Michigan’s Upon Wings spent the past few years writing music for their upcoming EP, all while releasing some Christmas singles and a cover of “Amazing Grace.” With their 2021 original single, “Eternal Way,” the group, which features Audio Ink Radio’s Anne Erickson on lead vocals, came back with a guitar-heavy, pulsating metal song, featuring guest vocals from Ralf Scheepers of Primal Fear and Gamma Ray and a guitar solo from Max Georgiev of Falling in Reverse’s touring lineup.

Vandalay, “Return”

Vandalay’s two members, Jake Greenwood and Ben Warner, split the band between Detroit and Chicago, making it a truly Midwest experience. The duo’s latest album, “Return,” was recorded during lockdown, giving Greenwood and Warner ample time to craft a musical masterpiece and something Greenwood tells Audio Ink Radio is “the most comprehensive record we’ve created.”

The Wild Honey Collective, “The Wild Honey Collective Volume 1”

Michigan indie-folk collective the Wild Honey Collective got together during the summer of 2020, in the heat of the COVID-19 pandemic, and started jamming out to both new and traditionally folk songs. The outfit has incredible musical chemistry, which is apparent on their debut release, the 11-track “The Wild Honey Collective: Volume 1,” which arrived digitally in January 2021 via GTG Records and on vinyl via GTG and Recess Ops in June 2021.

Anne Erickson’s column appears regularly in Audio Ink Radio. Have a band or concert to share? Contact her at anne@audioinkradio.com.

Anne Erickson
Posted by Anne Erickson | Alternative, Features, Local Music Beat, Music, Rock