Words JAMISON ISAAK
2021 was a surprisingly good year for music, or at least music that seemed to be geared directly for me. While this year saw some vast improvements on humanity’s general way of life, I still feel like we’re all in search of a bit of comfort, and for me, a lot of that comfort tends to come from music.
When looking over some of my favourite records of the year, it would be easy for me to go deep on records like Space 1.8 by Nala Sinephro, or Septet by John Caroll Kirby. (The world of “ambient jazz” provided so many beautiful records this year.) But I want to focus on The Zenmenn, two guys from Berlin who made my favorite album of the year, Enter the Zenmenn.
This record has something for everyone, and I really mean it. Light Balearic, gentle bossa nova, funky New Age, sunny jangle pop — this record traverses a different genre on every track. And yet, it’s still a cohesive listen.
One of the things I love most about this record, and about The Zenmenn in general, is their self-awareness. So many of the genres/scenes they’re referencing can be so self-serious, and all it takes is a quick glance through the tracklist to realize these guys have an incredible sense of humor about themselves. I can’t recommend the video of them performing “Flags of the World” (my favorite song on the record) enough. The digital zooms, the crowd noise, the incredible bow at the end; it all presents a looseness that makes the whole project all the more endearing.
But don’t let the looseness or seemingly carefree nature of this project fool you, these guys can seriously play. Every song on this record is beautifully arranged, and the recordings make it incredibly easy to listen to. It’s also worth noting that when the record gets serious, it’s incredibly effective. “Homage to a Friend” (featuring John Moods, who also released one of my favorite records of this year, So Sweet, So Nice) and “Topaz 2” (a digital bonus track) both have such sincere vocals and lyrics, it’s hard not to be moved by them.
I could go on and on, but I’ll end by saying that it felt like I was always dealing with a new form of anxiety this year, and it was really nice to have the warm and breezy world of The Zenmenn to escape into.