The albums of 2021 were likely some of the first full pieces of art created and completed while in the midst of a global pandemic. The year's best releases saw artists grapple with prolonged bouts of interiority, grief, a deteriorating and polarizing socio-political climate, and the desperate need for connection. Despite that not all of these albums are complete bummers if you can believe it!
Over the next three days, we'll be updating this post with our best of 2021, starting with our honorable mention and our 25th through 17th ranked albums.
Dltzk, frailty - The official debut album from the young producer, frailty proves an exhilarating cross-genre experience. Making waves in hyperpop, emo, digicore, and IDM, without feeling tied down to any one of these sounds, frailty confirms Dltzk as one of the most forward thinking and eclectic producers working currently.
Arca, KiCK ii-iiiii - Avant-garde electronic artist Arca finishes up her ‘KiCK’ series with this string of projects released right at the end of 2021. Each album markedly different from the last, the Venezuelan producer explores elements of reggaeton, cumbia, dance-pop, house, ambient, and more all through her own uniquely defined experimental lens.
Genesis Owusu, Smiling With No Teeth - A wonderfully idiosyncratic debut from the Australian alternative-R&B artist, Smiling With No Teeth cements Owusu as a modern-musical renaissance man. Laid back soul, raucous rap-rock, and smooth-as-butter R&B are all presented in stride through the artistically confident voice of Genesis Owusu.
Remi Wolf, Juno - Bright, audacious, and most importantly fun- Remi Wolf’s Juno is as fluorescent and full of personality as the singer herself. The kind of mythical pop album record where it feels like every one of these candy-coated, instantly accessible tracks could justifiably be a hit record. Do not let this one go overlooked.
Sufjan Stevens & Angelo De Augustine, A Beginner's Mind - On their newest record, Stevens and De Augustine come through with the most artistically inspired movie marathon you could imagine. Each track being inspired by a different film which the artists watched together, A Beginner’s Mind is a testament to the galvanizing force of a good artistic collaboration.
LOW, HEY WHAT - The 13th full-length record from legendary slowcore act LOW, HEY WHAT proves that the band still has plenty of gas left in the tank. Creating tracks that are at once noisy and sparse, HEY WHAT is a gospel inspired post-industrial affair that is equal parts harsh and beautiful.
Pink Siifu, Gumbo’! - As the title suggests, Gumbo’! is Pink Siifu’s kaleidoscopic, homebrewed love letter to southern hip-hop. Dreamy and jazzy, the album is dense yet Siifu’s smooth delivery and laid back approach throughout keep things from ever getting overbearing.
Yola, Stand for Myself - On stand for myself, the based artist Yola combines sounds of country, soul, Americana, and southern rock into one retro empowerment album which takes the sounds of rock music back to their earliest roots. The album is far more than just nostalgia bait though, Yola’s voice as an artist ties each track together, making for a total package that is both timely and timeless.
Mdou Moctar, Afrique Victime - Inspired by political turmoil in his home-country of Niger, Afrique Victime acts as guitarist and songwriter Mdou Moctar’s breakthrough album to much of the western-world. Hypnotic and meditative music that is also hard-rocking guitar worship, Afrique Victime transcends the language barrier presenting a visceral sonic depiction of the fallout of French colonialism.
Jazmine Sullivan, Heaux Tales - Released just eight days into 2021, Jazmine Sullivan’s Heaux Tales is a thoroughly modern masterclass on R&B storytelling. With over ten years in the music game, Sullivan hones her practice more than ever on this concept album surrounding modern dating, romance, sexuality, and humanity.
25. Spellling - The Turning Wheel
- Griffin McMorrow
24. Black Dresses - Forever in Your Heart
- Griffin McMorrow
23. Tyler, the Creator - Call Me If You Get Lost
- Griffin McMorrow
22. Black Country, New Road - For the First Time
- Griffin McMorrow
21. Mach Hommy - Pray for Haiti
20. Alice Phoebe Lou - Glow
19. Fievel is Glaque - God's Trashmen Sent to Right the Mess
Those who began 2021 with an ear towards the Bandcamp sphere are unlikely to have missed Fievel Is Glaque’s mystifying debut, God’s Trashmen Sent to Right the Mess, which quickly made waves on the platform following its January 1st release. Now, over a full year since the buzz began, there’s still plenty worth revisiting about the record. On God’s Trashmen, American songwriter Zach Phillips and Brussels-based vocalist Ma Clément work alongside an impressive assortment of rotating musicians to craft 20 quirky jazz-pop vignettes. Given the album’s lengthy credits, it may come as a surprise that these recordings sound so raw and spontaneous. This lo-fi sound is foundational to this project’s charm and distinguishes it from the plethora of self-serious, immaculately produced baroque pop albums which consistently make the rounds. While the sound of God’s Trashmen is relatively consistent, the duo incorporates a variety of stylistic influences. These influences manifest by way of both the instrumental palettes and Clément’s vocal performances. On the pristine, carefree “Decoy,” she sings entirely in French. “Sweet Tooth” sees her monotone, staccato vocals flow so constantly as to literally leave little room to breathe. On “Crooks Like Children,” she raps nonchalantly over a wonky, clanking beat. This all exemplifies one of the great successes of this release: it is never too buttoned-up to be playful and to take risks.
- Noah Spencer
18 Lost Girls (Jenny Haval & Håvard Volden) - Menneskekollektivet
A meditative, serene, and thought provoking minimalist techno and progressive house record. Jenny Hval and Håvard Volden come together for a relaxing, hypnotic auditory journey; a reflection of art, isolation, unstoppable change, and the reflection of the artistic process. Meandering about in a spoken word manner is the soothing voice of Jenny Hval, she encompasses a mode of pondering and reflection, exuding an energy and catharsis that connects with the listener. Despite its more experimental elements, at its core, Menneskekollektivet is a dance record. While none of the songs would probably be heard playing in clubs across Europe, the repetitive beats on offer here are certainly entrancing. Each drum and synth weave effortlessly with the vocal performances of Hval, bringing together a small yet extensive collection of five tracks that ought to act as a cornerstone for some of the more adventurous electronic music fans going forward.
- Tristen Rodriguez
One of the most impactful musical moments of 2021 is hearing Indigo De Souza sing the line “kill me slowly, take me with you”. The opening words of album closer “Kill Me”, De Souza pleads plainly yet desperately with only gently strummed guitar chords as a backing. It’s the sort of lyric one would expect to be filled with angst, or defiance, or rage, yet here it is understated and elegant. This exact dichotomy bleeds through the entire record; the dichotomy between the lush and ferocious, the joyful and melancholy, the highs and lows of sensitive vulnerability. The album in its totality is a testament for what an exciting time it is to be a singer/ songwriter in this current year, unbound by any sonic expectations or limitations, De Souza gleefully adds flairs of synthpop, grunge, and even slight jazzy embellishes to these instantly heart wrenching and beautifully raw indie rock tracks. A supremely emotional listen, on Any Shape You Take De Souza is either howling in anguish or a fully assuring presence, in any case her words brim with empathy as she reminds the listener that no matter how it feels, you’re not alone.
- Griffin McMorrow