1. Injury Reserve - By the Time I Get to Phoenix
The Arizona-based groups second studio album By the Time I Get To Phoenix is a mind altering and one of a kind tribute to late member Stepa J. Groggs. The sounds on this album are not only unconventional, but largely undefinable, and necessarily require some amount of history to appreciate in full. While touring in Europe after the release of their self-titled 2019 album, the group performed an improvised DJ set remixing their songs to create a new avant-garde style; at one point in the set, the group remixed Isaac Hayes’ "By the Time I Get to Phoenix", creating what would go on to become the lead single, "Superman That". Inspired by the set, the group decided to pursue this avant-garde and experimental direction. However, personal tragedy would strike when bandmate, Stepa J. Groggs passed away halfway through the year. With the album nearly finished, the group went on a brief two-month hiatus following his passing before reconvening to complete the remainder of the album. It can not be understated how deeply Groggs' passing affected the group as well as the sound of this record- the group's remaining members (producer Parker Corey as well as Ritchie) opted to make the record as uncompromising as possible in honor of Groggs. Due to the intimate portrayal of grief which this album necessarily encapsulates, Ritchie’s writing ventures away from the typical verse-chorus structure with most songs lacking a chorus, hook, or bridge to create friction and tension. In response to this lyrical content, Corey’s production embraces a more deconstructed, dissonant sound. Abandoning any semblance of tradition or convention in comparison to the group's previous releases. On By the Time I Get to Phoenix, Injury Reserve revolutionize an almost “post-rap” sound. Whether or not you buy into that definition of genre, it’s hard to listen to the abstract, hectic, radical and uniquely inspired epic pontification on grief and chaos that is this album and not feel like you are listening to something that is altogether new and wholly without compare.
- Griffin McMorrow
2. Lingua Ignota - Sinner Get Ready
Haunting, beautiful, spiritual, and soul piercing. Without pomp and circumstance, Kristin Hayter’s SINNER GET READY is the most surreal and harrowing listening experience of the year. Words cannot aptly describe the sheer power and emotion that is ingrained in each song on this project. Seldom does a record have the ability to leave a listener not only speechless or moved, but transformed. Seldom does a record have the ability not only to captivate the listener, but overwhelm with its sheer brilliance. This is one of those rare records that is a totally transmogrifying experience. Inspired sonically and lyrically by the landscape and history of rural Pennsylvania where she lived for the majority of the albums recording sessions- Hayter continues to mine her own personal trauma as a survivor of domestic violence as well as religious inspiration which has been a consistent theme in her work to pen this powerful set of anthems which are equal parts empowering and brutalizing. On SINNER GET READY Hayter abandons the harsh noise, industrial assets, and vocal wallows that detailed the cacophony of her last album, instead creating a wall of sound with rugged acoustic instrumentation and stacked vocals which, according to interviews, were left intentionally imperfect at various points to create a feeling that is at once more dissonant and raw. Perhaps appropriately for her artistic namesake, Hayter’s music as Lingua Ignota isn’t the sort of thing whose feeling and power can be summed up so succinctly with words alone, it’s so guttural and devastating that it must be experienced- if you can stomach it.
- Tristen Rodriguez and Griffin McMorrow
3. JPEGMAFIA - LP!
Riding the fine line between experimental and accessible. LP! stands as a testament to keeping true to your art and expressing your thoughts, feelings, opinions, and emotions through music, a practice which JPEGMAFIA has been fine tuning over the past 5 years that comes to a head on his sprawling fourth studio album. LP! pulls no punches with regards to its uniquely outlandish collage of sound that, despite all odds, interlock and work perfectly together to create a project which remains uniquely listenable despite its uncompromising vision. Peggy’s delivery is as chaotic and energetic with beats that stand as some of his most stupefying and memorable so far. Just listen to a track like “HAZARD DUTY PAY!” for proof of concept. Years of experimentation and sonic exploration have made for an MC and producer with nothing left to prove. LP! then, sees Peggy flexing his creative muscles simply to showcase to all of his contemporaries why exactly he remains one of the best in the game currently.
- Tristen Rodriguez
4. black midi. - Cavalcade
These English art-rockers first started making noise as black midi. with a string of successful and acclaimed live performances whose resulting album (2019’s Schlangenheim) would prove to be an undeniably fresh and influential high water-mark among the already bustling modern post-punk scene. Needless to say, the band had their work cut out for them when crafting a follow-up. Luckily, their newest full length “Cavalcade” more than rises to the occasion, expanding upon their sound while keeping the inspired adventurous streak that made the band so standout in the first place. The band notably took a more premeditated approach to the writing and recording on the record, as opposed to the improvisational approach taken for their debut. This results in a record that is more meditative bringing the bands free-jazz influence and avant garde experimentation into the spotlight; this remains true for understated acoustic jams (“Marlene Dietrich”) or more familiarly dizzying, angular, and anxious rockers (“John L”). Overall on Cavalcade, black midi. smooth down the edges for a more considered and lush approach to songwriting that prove this band is far more than a flash in the pan. -Griffin McMorrow
5. Japanese Breakfast - Jubilee
To those paying attention, 2021 was the year of Michelle Zauner. The mastermind behind the indie act Japanese Breakfast, Zauner released a best selling memoir and an award winning video game soundtrack. However, it was her stunning album Jubilee that acted as a unique culmination not just of her work throughout the year, but as the most revelatory breakthrough moment of her creative career so far. Zauner said about the album, "After spending the last five years writing about grief, I wanted our follow up to be about joy". This came not only with a change in lyricism but a significant shift in sound. On Jubilee Zauner sheds all lo-fi, shoegaze, or indie rock inspiration to shift focus solely on her pop songwriting. The way she takes on these sounds is totally unique as well, this album isn’t just a pastiche of 80’s pop, it's not just an hook heavy dream pop album, it’s not just following in the footsteps of recent alt-pop wunderkinds like Carly Rae Jepsen, or Jack Stauber, or Charli XCX. Rather it takes elements from all of these sounds and pushes them forward to create a more transformative and complete listen. More musically and lyrically complex than Zauner’s previous releases with Japanese Breakfast, this project bleeds ambition all while sticking to an earworm-y pop format, making for Zauner’s most deceptively mature release yet.
6. Little Simz - Sometimes I Might Be Introvert
Triumphant and cinematic. Grand and powerful. Declarative and intimate. A grand accomplishment that deserves every bit of praise it gets, tenfold. Little Simz comes out of the gate making an entrance for the ages with a career defining opening track. ‘Introvert’ sets the tone of the record to perfection with a beat which could justifiably be called epic (those strings and horns are unparalleled) and cutthroat verse after cutthroat verse. From that point on Simz paints a beautiful, moving, and inspiring audio-memoir detailing her life, her family, her womanhood, and her career in painstakingly acute and eloquent prose. Simz is an artist that keeps the roots, the essence, and the soul of the genre at the forefront of her music, that fact shines through in this new record more than anything else. Not one moment is wasted. And every detail is savored of its importance. Sometimes I Might Be Introvert is a powerful showcase of hip hop’s importance to art and expression.
7. Cassandra Jenkins - An Overview on Phenomenal Nature
“So these are real things that happened”, begins a spoken-word introduction on lead single “Hard Drive”, “Where you can apply these important concepts, and understand that when we lose our connection to nature we lose our spirit, our humanity, our sense of self.” By the end of An Overview on Phenomenal Nature, the listener is left unsure whether or not this is a sentiment Cassandra Jenkins actually agrees with, it may be that she doesn’t even know herself. Indeed, this album is one full of contradictions, half truths, half-remembered conversations, and metaphors more concerned with feeling true than being true. Such things would be detrimental in the hands of a lesser songwriter, but on Phenomenal Nature Jenkins uses these complexities to craft a vignette of loss and healing built on intimately woven, dreamlike and impressionistic stories and soundscapes. That, then, is the more important part of the sentiment which kicks off “Hard Drive” when the speaker (who, by the sounds of it, may or may not have realized they were even being recorded) insists “these are real things that happened”. Throughout the best and most inspired moments of it’s runtime that is the prevailing truth of Phenomenal Nature, these are real things that happen- here they are portrayed in their most honest form.
- Griffin McMorrow
8. Turnstile - GLOW ON
With GLOW ON, the Baltimore based hardcore group Turnstile come through with their best and most fully-realized work yet. Turnstile has been cranking out some of the most melodic hardcore you can put your ear to for the better part of a decade now, however, their newest is a significant moment in the realm of heavy music for just how forward thinking, tuneful, and instant the album has proved to be. Throughout GLOW ON the band notably toys with genre play- incorporating elements of dream pop, shoegaze, and even R&B in sparse measures (the album features the bands first ever collaboration with Dev Hynes A.K.A Blood Orange) while still remaining bleedingly faithful to their hardcore roots. A breakthrough album for not just the band but the genre, GLOW ON is a testament to how complex heavy music can be both musically and emotionally.
9. Floating Points & Pharoah Sanders (feat. The London Symphony Orchestra) - Promises
The most exciting collaboration of the year (move aside, Silk Sonic) was by far the teaming up of electronic music musician Floating Points and jazz legend Pharoah Sanders. The result was something truly inspired. Sam Shepherd, the musician behind the Floating Points moniker, stepped away from his typical IDM to compose for orchestra instead, arranging one of the most delicate and thoughtful pieces of the year. The building block is a 7 note motif, the first notes played, and they continue throughout the length of the composition, giving a mystical air to the work. It is Pharoah Sanders though, who serves as the guide for the meditation. The iconic tone of his saxophone takes nearly a minute and a half to enter, but it is assertive and begging, the recognizable breathiness luring you to lean in just a little bit further, to see what the journey is all about. Despite the mostly subdued tone, there are joyous moments of exaltation. In “movement 3”, Sanders puts down his saxophone and begins using his voice instead. It begins as soft and thoughtful as his previous playing, but becomes more lighthearted and playful as the 4th movement begins. After several minor builds, the sky finally opens up in the 7th movement; Sanders’s saxophone is let loose, coming close to the style of playing he was best known for during his most prolific era. The final movement features Shepherd capturing pure beauty with the London Symphony Orchestra, closing out like a soundtrack from a movie. It is the most tense the piece gets, but incredibly moving before fading back into silence (for over 30 seconds on the digital version), allowing you to slowly wake back up to reality.
- Anthony Wells
10. Sloppy Jane - Madison
The newest full-length from the California based Avant-Garde rock/ performance art project Sloppy Jane, Madison continues frontwoman Haley Dahl’s fascination with the inherent beauty in the grotesque and makes for her most fully realized release yet. Continuing with the project's unique eccentricities, the entirety of this record was recorded in the Lost World Caverns in Southern West Virginia; however, this record is far from a gimmick- each decision is fully integrated into the albums off-kilter and somewhat unsettling take on chamber pop. The natural reverb, echoes, and found-sound quality that the naturalistic recording environment provide push this record to new heights, but it wouldn’t be half as gratifying if the tunes, lyricism, and production here weren’t all equally esoteric and magnetic. Heartbreak, loss, nature, addiction, animal abuse, and murder are all topics rife for poetic musings in the world which Dahl pens on Madison. Throughout even it’s most macabre moments though there’s a theatrical air that keeps Madison from becoming overly off-putting, but if it makes these tunes slightly more accessible that’s by coincidence. Make no mistake, every element of this performance was put on solely to engage Dahl in her entirely uncompromising and one of a kind creative vision, audience be damned.
- Griffin McMorrow
11. Wiki - Half God
This newest release from the New-York based MC with collaborator Navy Blue handling all production behind the board is a project that will have listeners foaming at the mouth for more. A true blue New York rapper and artist reminiscent of legends like Nas, Guru, GZA, Big L, and others. Wiki and Navy Blue go deep to the roots of the genre, interpreting tracks in a classic yet refreshing way. Tracks such as “Can’t Do This Alone”, “Home”, ``New Truths``, and “The Business” are passionate, stank face inducing boom bap bangers, whereas the other portion of the record spends its time on self-reflection and storytelling. While Half God is Wiki’s 5th studio release, on it he feels as if he is finally coming into his own and blossoming into one of New York’s premier hip hop. All in all the beats are pristine, the bars are sharp, and the artistry is killer. With over ten years in the rap game Wiki comes through with an album that even non-believers should take note of.
- Tristen Rodriguez
12. L'rain - Fatigue
Right off the bat, Taja Cheek (L’Rain) lets the listener know that this album is one born of self-reflection and remembering. A sampled vocal recording of Quinton Brock at the end of track one, “Fly, Die”, asks the question, “What have you done to change?” actively putting the listener into the same headspace Cheek herself seems to have been in during the writing process. Many songs on Fatigue continue this reflection, often asking more questions than giving answers, with music that typically follows suit. The off-kilter grooves and constant use of tape recordings and manipulation sends one into a state of near hypnosis, forcing the listener to let go of their own ego and allow L’Rain to lead them through abstract and intimate narratives. In an interview with Nick Zanca for Tone Glow, Cheek expands upon the use of field recording as a means of remembering, an element that is featured prominently on the album, both in the songs and the interludes that alternate with the full-length tracks. They serve as a form of documentation of moments and the atmosphere around them, something that is captured beautifully throughout the record’s short runtime. It is an equally brief and potent release- meditatively curious, the music shares in our grief and thankfully offers a calming space to process everything that has us fatigued.
- Anthony Wells
13. Illuminati Hotties - Let Me Do One More
Sarah Tudzin is the frontwoman for the band Illuminati Hotties, she also crucially loves a weird joke. Whether it’s bitingly satirical visions of a corner store selling bottled spit, absurdist non-sequiturs about the DNC, drug shamans, and business startups, or infuriatingly clever turns of phrase- Let Me Do One More is chock full of asides and witticisms all wrapped neatly in a tight punk package. A mixer, engineer, and producer by trade, the record is also populated by the sort of deceptively obvious hooks and surprisingly complexed and layered instrumentation which Tudzin makes look easy. Despite the record's playful nature, the emotions and tunes at the core are real, and fleshed out transcending this project from being just a snot-nosed punk romp. Catchy, clever, and endlessly re-listenable by the time this album is through, Tudzin is sure to have even the most stern and self-serious listener laughing along with her.
- Griffin McMorrow
14. Backxwash - I Lie Here Buried With My Rings and My Dresses
An electrifying followup to her Polaris-prize winning album God Has Nothing to Do with This Leave Him Out of It, Zambian-Canadian rapper Backxwash’s newest effort continues her exploration of religion, identity, trauma, and the occult while deepening her unique horrorcore rap metal sound. The most notable step here is in production, Buried has a much fuller sound palette when compared to her previous work; similarly the newest project sees Backxwash (real name Ashanti Mutinta) expanding her collaboration pool. Some familiar faces return (Ada Rook of Black Dresses lends to a few tracks) but Mutinta also lends guest spots to hip-hop experimentalists clipping., indie vocalist Sadie Dupuis (Sad13, Speedy Ortiz) and more throughout the album's scant 10 tracks. However, despite all of this Backxwash remains the star of her own show, her outsized personality calling attention at every moment just like any good horror villain ought to.
- Griffin McMorrow
15. Lucy Dacus - Home Video
On her ambitious and deeply personal third album Lucy Dacus mines nostalgia deeper than most are able. Digging past the perverse sentimentality which belies most writers and delving instead into the bittersweet truths of what it truly means to “come of age”. Within it’s 11 tracks Dacus elevates typical indie rock affair with her well trained voice delivering ornately detailed images of the trials of youth. It is notable that the entire album starts with the line “being back here makes me hot in the face” teasing embarrassment at the thought of revisiting one’s past beautifully sets up the subversive nature that underscores the entirety of Home Video. She revisits first loves, religious touchstones, shitty exes, and reckons with her identity through the lens both of her young self and the older, wiser, more experienced woman she’s become- doing both with painstaking portrateur and sensitivity. In what might be the albums most standout track “Thumbs” Dacus delivers a sparse and haunting ballad which plainly details supporting a friend through trauma. Dacus puts us in the moment with her younger self and the other characters in the scene until the end of the track where she nearly breaks down wishing she had said to her friend what she is only able to now. This is not the only moment that should have the listener crying along with her.
- Griffin McMorrow
16. Armand Hammer & The Alchemist - Haram
A breaking of new ground for one of the best contemporary hip hop producers in the genre. The Alchemist teams up with the independent and philosophical rap pioneers of Armand Hammer (billy woods & ELUCID) for a politically charged and intoxicating listening experience. In just 15 tracks, billy and ELUCID go on a 40 minute tear ravaging white supremacy, the systemic failures of capitalism, and the hypocrisy of religious fanatics. These criticisms hit hard with the vital backing beats of The Alchemist, who, throughout his extensive last decade, has established himself as something of an all time great producer. Each beat here adds an apocalyptic aura to the typically dread filled and stern performances from billy woods and ELUCID. Haram stands as a necessarily prescient and raw musical reminder of what is and what is to come if nothing is done to stop the aforementioned threats to humanity.
- Tristen Rodriguez
17. Indigo De Souza - Any Shape You Take
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
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
19. Fievel is Glauque - 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 Marie-Amélie Clément-Bollée 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-Bollée’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
20. Alice Phoebe Lou - Glow
Every year, there seems to be at least one album whose parts don’t seem like they should add up to more than the whole. An album that, despite its flaws or derivativeness, remains endlessly compelling. It’s inexplicable, and Glow, the third album by South African born singer songwriter Alice Phoebe Lou, was that album in 2021. The songwriting across the album is incredibly tight. The lyrics are simple and clever and, while not overly thought provoking, are incredibly emotional and do a fantastic job of letting you into the mind of the author. Each song touches on different emotions, mostly centered on being in love or wanting to fall out of it. The real grab though is the atmosphere that Phoebe Lou manages to create throughout the record. She avoids sounding like any other generic #indie artist by injecting the writing with a unique jazz influence, surrounding the listener like a soft blanket without ever becoming too saccharine. The songs are warm and the production, although not dense, manages to wrap around you and suspend the listener comfortably in space with Lou’s soft vocal delivery. It’s a pure comfort album that still manages to be endlessly entertaining and welcoming on repeated listens.
- Anthony Wells
21. Mach Hommy - Pray for Haiti
To those in the know, the Griselda collective have been one of the most influential noisemakers in the past decade of rap music. However, on Pray for Haiti longtime contributor Mach-Hommy may have raised the bar not just for himself but for the entire collective. The grimy, sample-heavy beats are familiar to fans, and features are largely kept in-house- this approach though gives Hommy the chance to stretch his legs, only about five years in to a commercial career he takes on the voice of an old pro as he digs deeper into his haitian heritage and love of rap history. Even as Hommy continues to breakthrough the underground, the elusive MC remains anonymous and notably obfuscates any attempt to make himself more easily known (he rarely does interviews, maintains no social media, and doesn’t even widely publish his lyrics) Still, with a portrait as fully realized as Pray for Haiti, a listener need not go to such lengths to get to know the artist, it’s all already there.
22. Black Country, New Road - For the First Time
The highly anticipated debut from the experimental English rock-band also stands as one of the most inspired and notable post-rock listens in the better part of a decade. Released on NinjaTune in early 2021 following a string of acclaimed singles and live performances, For the First Time is something of a revelation for rock music. Guitar here is the propulsive force leading most tracks, however, the record is notable for its greater interest in atmosphere and aesthetics as opposed to groove or melody. Speaking on the band's interest in this more esoteric rock sound, saxophonist Lewis Evan’s has said of the album “We've learnt our best asset: We can play quietly. We've taken that and used it so it's more dynamic. Intensity worked for us with those early recordings, like, 'Oh my god, this band is so intense and angsty,' but this record is a much more considered approach.” The referential, poetic, and histrionic lyrical motifs are endlessly compelling as well, being the sole consistency in the album's sound. Overall, on For the First Time BC,NR stick the landing and come through with one of the most essential rock releases of the year.
- Griffin McMorrow
23. Tyler, the Creator - Call Me If You Get Lost
Following his most critically and commercially successful streak to date Tyler presents this remarkably uncommercial product. This isn’t to say Call Me If You Get Lost is inaccessible at all, on the contrary Tyler puts together some of his smoothest and most instant tracks yet; it’s uncommercial instead in its presentation, a fully detailed pastiche of a mid-00’s mixtape, complete with a dozen features from hot new rappers and consistent interludes and adlibs from the legendary DJ Drama (who in many way pioneered this sound). Tyler here continues character work akin to his hero MF DOOM, rapping under the moniker ‘Tyler Baudelaire’; a name which is loaded with referential poignancy for hip-hop heads to dissect. Such practice is commonplace for Tyler, who himself crafts this project with a hip hop head’s ear in mind- running the gambit from arrogant bangers, to R&B tinged love songs, to off-the-cuff story tracks which push past the 8 minute mark, tackling each with poise and mastery. In many ways CMIYGL acts as an apotheosis of Tyler’s work without the pretense which would usually bog down such a thing.
24. Black Dresses - Forever in Your Heart
The Canadian noise-pop duo’s comeback record (though they are apparently still disbanded) stands as their most brutal and apocalyptic release yet. With their constant genre-bending and tongue-in-cheek, chronically online lyricism, Black Dresses (composed of Devi McCallion and Ada Rook) have been an internet-era darling since their inception. Forever in Your Heart however sees the duo looking back at more classically inspired industrial noise. The drill-like synths and bustling noise of the intro track call back to some of Throbbing Gristle’s more tuneful work, whereas the off-kilter grooves of a track like “Bulldozer” bring to mind early Nine Inch Nails. There is a good deal of catharsis throughout the album even as the group delve into these darker and more and more ruthless tunes. This catharsis is something of a balancing act which the band has always captured fairly well. However, tracks like the closer “(Can’t) Keep it Together”, which acts as the band’s earnest attempt at something approaching a stadium ballad, prove what new heights the duo are still able to reach- even while disbanded.
- Griffin McMorrow
25. Spellling - The Turning Wheel
With no qualifiers, Spellling’s The Turning Wheel has the best production and arrangements of any album this year. This fact is made doubly impressive by the fact that said arrangements were all orchestrated and masterminded by Spellling (A.K.A Christyia Carbal) herself. With some 22 artists credited with the creation of the album, The Turning Wheel sees Spellling stepping away from her sparse dark wave and gothic roots- instead turning to a more full fledged progressive pop direction a la Kate Bush or Joanna Newsom. The results are nothing short of awe-inspiring. These vast swaths of acoustic instrumentation push Spellling’s already marvelous songwriting into vibrant new dimensions. With Carbal’s bewitching vocals and mythically compelling lyricism as the anchoring throughline, The Turning Wheel remains one of the year's most enigmatic listens.
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.