The Top 25 Albums of 2021

It is officially 2022. With the new year here, and 2021 coming to a close, now feels like a great time to look back at the past year of music and the best releases to come out. I would like to share my twenty-five favorite albums to come out in the past year, but before we get into the bulk of the list, there are plenty of good albums that I enjoyed, but for one reason or another, they did not make the final list. Here are some honorable mentions worth shouting out:

Badbadnotgood — Talk Memory, Boldy James & The Alchemist — Super Tecmo Bo, CHUNG HA — Querencia, Faye Webster — I Know I’m Funny haha, Godspeed You! Black Emperor — G_d’s Pee AT STATE’S END, Ka — A Martyr’s Reward, Low — HEY WHAT, Lump— Animal, Navy Blue — Navy’s Reprise, Parannoul —To See The Next Part of the Dream, TEKE::TEKE— Shirushi, Tyler, the Creator — CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST, Vince Staples — Vince Staples, Your Old Droog — Space Bar & TIME

25. Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders & The London Symphony Orchestra — Promises

Kicking off this top 25 list is a mesmerizing collaborative album that will leave the listener both entranced and relaxed. The production quality here is top-notch, and all the artists who contributed to it did a great job. Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders(who is over 80 years old and still plays with an impressive level of control by the way), and The London Symphony Orchestra all come together to create a fantastic record with elements of jazz, electronic, and classical music.

24. Sufjan Stevens & Angelo De Augustine— A Beginner’s Mind

A Beginner’ Mind is another collaborative album, between Sufjan Stevens and Angelo De Augustine, who come together to create one of the most well-written folk records in recent memory. The two artists have a ton of chemistry together and the film-inspired songs they present here are downright gorgeous.

23. PinkPantheress — to hell with it

In 2021, PinkPantheress has made a lot of waves in the music industry, thanks in large part to several of her songs blowing up on the social media platform TikTok. She is still developing her sound, but it is a unique one, and her music has a way of connecting with Gen Z culture in a way most artists can’t right now. Everything from the lyrical topics to the way the songs are structured(many of them being under 2 minutes) feels perfectly aligned with the younger generation. “Just For Me” alone is a brilliant song that shows what makes PinkPantheress special, and why she is going to be an artist worth watching over the next few years.

22. Kanye West — Donda

What else is there for legendary artist Kanye West to do or prove in his career at this point? Even this far in, he still dominated headlines for the majority of the year, with a lot of attention around the release of Donda. On this album, West walks the line between messy and chaotic to create a large project filled with enough beautiful moments, songs, and ideas to make up for any shortcomings it may have. This is a versatile and ambitious record that proves Kanye West is still capable of creating great music and innovating in ways nobody else can.

21. Jaubi, Latarnik & Tenderlonious— Nafs at Peace

Nafs at Peace is a great spiritual jazz album filled with beautiful arrangements. All around it is a good and enjoyable record.

20. Spellling — The Turning Wheel

Spellling’s The Turning Wheel is a mysterious and magical experience. The unique vocals, pretty production, and lyrics filled with imagery drag the listening into a world full of wonder and good songwriting.

19. BRUIT ≤ — The Machine is burning and now everyone knows it could happen again

The Machine is burning and now everyone knows it could happen again is an amazing post-rock album that feels politically charged and conveys the emotion of frustration very well. The instrumentation is larger than life, dynamic, and at times brutal. This record’s loudest moments are mind-blowing and emotional.

18. Olivia Rodrigo— SOUR

Over the past year, Olivia Rodrigo has become one of the most unavoidable artists in pop music, and she deserves it. It might seem easy to write her off as another run-of-the-mill radio-pop artist, but on SOUR she proves herself to be one of the most promising young singers in the mainstream light. This album is filled to the brim with emotion and some of the catchiest songs of the year.

17. Mach-Hommy —Pray For Haiti

Executive produced(and essentially hosted) by none other than Westside Gunn himself, Pray For Haiti is another solid release in underground rapper Mach-Hommy’s discography. Mach-Hommy has been making quality music for a while now, and despite this record turning some new heads, he sticks to sound for another great album. Mach-Hommy has one of the best deliveries in hip-hop right now, and he knows how to pick great production. It feels effortless for Mach-Hommy to drop albums this good at this point.

16. Lingua Ignota — SINNER GET READY

SINNER GET READY is one of the most intense albums to be released in all of 2021, dealing with heavy issues like religion and abuse. Many of the songs here take a slow and patient approach, while simultaneously pushing the instrumentation to its limit. This album is unlike anything else, and it captures feelings of sadness and hope very well.

15. Sloppy Jane — Madison

If you are by any chance looking for a progressive pop singer-songwriter album, that contains elements of classical music, deals with death heavily in an almost playful way, and was also recorded in a literal cave, then Madison by Sloppy Jane is the perfect album for you. Being recorded in a cave the acoustics of this album are very unique, and the songwriting is consistently engaging throughout the record.

14. Remi Wolf — Juno

Juno might be the most fun album to come out all year. It is bouncy, chaotic, loud, and Remi Wolf’s charming personality is overflowing. Not only is this album genuinely hilarious at points, but Remi Wolf also delivers songs that stay catchy throughout their entire runtime. The choruses, the verses, the bridges, the outros, all of it is endlessly memorable and bound to stick in your head. Juno also brings together elements of synth-pop, hip-hop, r&b, and electronic music perfectly. It is a seriously fun album that I cannot stop listening to.

13. Nas — Magic

Nas and Hit-Boy come together on Magic to create the best Nas fronted album to come out in almost a decade. From a rapping standpoint Nas sounds hungry as ever, he is trying out new flows, lyrically he sounds very sharp, and his confidence is undeniable. On the production side of things, this is my favorite batch of instrumentals Hit-Boy has given Nas yet. The boom-bap-inspired instrumentals complement Nas as a rapper very well. Magic sounds like Nas’ victory lap after having one of the most respected careers in hip-hop history.

12. Japanese Breakfast — Jubilee

Jubilee is one of the most refreshing pop-oriented records to come out in recent memory. The instrumentation sounds warm and lush, and the vocals are soft yet poignant. It is hard not to love what Japanese Breakfast is doing here. I listened to “Be Sweet” constantly last summer. That song, and the album as a whole, feels like a glass of lemonade on a hot day.

11. Illuminati Hotties — Let Me Do One More

Let Me Do One More is another fun album teeming with personality that I have not been able to put down. Singer and producer Sarah Tudzin knows how to write an attention-grabbing song and inject her personality into it. This is one of the most interesting alternative rock albums I have heard all year and it is certainly worth a listen.

10. JPEGMAFIA — LP! (Offline Version)

Rapper/producer JPEGMAFIA has been at the forefront of experimental hip-hop for the past few years. Coming off of arguably his best album yet(2019’s All My Heroes Are Cornballs), of course Peggy decided now was the time to reinvent his sound yet again. The crop of songs presented here are as weird and abrasive as ever, with Peggy rapping brash and confidently over an ever-unique batch of instrumentals, which feature some of the most creative sampling I have heard.

9. Silk Sonic— An Evening With Silk Sonic

From the moment Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak announced that they were forming a duo together, then dropped the omnipresent lead single “Leave The Door Open,” their album together has been one of the most anticipated of the year, and for good reason. The duo has an undeniable amount of chemistry and delivered one of the best soul records in recent memory. The entire album pays homage to classic soul and funk sounds(it’s even hosted by none other than funk legend Bootsy Collins), but they put a modern twist on it and execute everything they are trying to accomplish extremely well.

8. Magdalena Bay — Mercurial World

Magdalena Bay is an upcoming pop duo, and on Mercurial World, they perfectly balance influences of 80s synth-pop with modern avant-garde pop music. The merging of worlds that comes together is stunning from front to back, with many catchy songs that build in beautiful ways. Nothing was held back in terms of bringing in new instruments throughout the songs to keep them interesting. Also worth mentioning almost all of the songs here are infectiously catchy, have a pristine production quality, and come off as eccentric in the best way possible.

7. Boldy James & The Alchemist— Bo Jackson

Over the past two years, Boldy James has proved he is one of the best rappers out right now(note, Manger on McNichols was my album of the year in 2020). His delivery is cutthroat and hard-hitting, his flow sounds smooth over any instrumental put in front of him, and his lyricism revolves around ultra-specific storytelling and painting pictures. He knows raps.

Alchemist is one of the most prolific and talented producers around. He consistently manages to drop multiple great projects every year, and he knows how to chop a soul sample as well as anyone. He knows beats.

Boldy and Alchemist’s respective styles match each other perfectly, it makes sense that they now have five collaborative projects together, and Bo Jackson is the best one yet. Not to mention, the featured artists here all deliver amazing performances(Benny The Butcher, Earl Sweatshirt, Roc Marciano, Freddie Gibbs, etc). This album is filled with talent, it’s executed flawlessly, and many of the best hip-hop songs of the year appear on here.

6. Billie Eilish — Happier Than Ever

The young star Billie Eilish has continued to grow as a person and evolve as an artist, sounding as mature as ever and pushing her sound to new levels on her latest album, Happier Than Ever. With the help of her brother FINNEAS on production, Billie has crafted a sound unlike anything else in the mainstream right now. Her whisper-singing style over these soft but electronic-based instrumentals leads to an intimate listen from front-to-back, that slowly builds into a cathartic climax with the penultimate track, also titled “Happier Than Ever.” It’s not only the best song on the album, but the best song to come out all year. The whole album is remarkably consistent, and finishing off with such a high note shows how far Billie has come in terms of crafting albums. It is going to be very excited to see how she follows this one up.

5. Armand Hammer & The Alchemist — Haram

It is amazing that with over 20 years in The Alchemist is still pushing himself and trying new sounds. Haram contains some of his most eclectic and abstract instrumentals yet. Collaborating with hip-hop duo Armand Hammer(consisting of Billy Woods and Elucid) is a great decision that leads to plenty of great songs packed with eerie samples and dense lyricism. Armand Hammer’s desolate lyricism and Alchemist’s production are two things I never seem to get tired of, so the result of these two forces coming together is one of the darkest yet most enjoyable hip-hop albums to come out. No matter how many times I listen to this one, there will always be new layers to uncover in the lyrics and meaning behind the songs.

4. Mach-Hommy— Balens Cho (Hot Candles)

This one was a late entry to the list, just coming out about a month ago, so I am not quite ready to say whether this is my favorite Mach-Hommy album yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it becomes that. The album is only about twenty-four minutes long, but Mach-Hommy covers a lot of ground over some great lo-fi instrumentals. Of course, he spends time rapping braggadocious and tough-talking, but this is also a very introspective record. “WOODEN NICKELS” is a great track that sees Mach reflecting on his family and how his background affected him, over one of the most smooth and sentimental jazz rap instrumentals I have heard this year. There’s also the incredible outro track, “SELF LUH,” which is a piece about self-love and care. Mach-Hommy gives a lot of food for thought throughout the entire record, giving wisdom that is both therapeutic and empowering to listen to, without ever sacrificing who he is or what has made his music special so far. Balens Cho (Hot Candles) is an absolute must-listen for any fans of Mach-Hommy’s previous work or lo-fi hip-hop in general.

3. St. Vincent — Daddy’s Home

The ever-evolving St. Vincent teams up with producer Jack Antonoff to create one of the most mature and broken albums of the year. Lyrically the album is confessional, raw, and honest. This is an album for the imperfect people of the world, forcing the listener to confront their flaws and all the bad things they have gone through. Or at least that is my experience with it. From a production standpoint, this is a soothing and warm record, bringing together many influences from the 70s. It is easy to get lost in the sound of this album and miss important lyrical details, requiring multiple listens to uncover everything St. Vincent is saying.

2. Injury Reserve — By The Time I Get To Phoenix

By The Time I Get To Phoenix is admittedly a hard record to talk about. I wish I could just talk about the abrasive, industrial, glitch-hop production on this album. I wish I could just say on this album Injury Reserve pushes their sound further than ever before and leave it at that, but there is an obvious elephant in the room here that has to be talked about. The death of key member Jordan Groggs runs throughout all of this album. The album is noticeably more emotional and heartbreaking than Injury Reserve’s previous work, with some of the songs directly dealing with the grief the members are going through. “Top Picks for You” is one of the most interesting song concepts I have ever heard, dealing with how when someone dies in the modern world their digital footprint is still left behind. Hearing Grogg’s voice on “Knees” is painful, especially given the lyrical content of that song. Despite how hard mournful this album is, it still ends on a somewhat optimistic note with “Bye Storm,” making a statement that life moves on and we have to do our best to pick ourselves up in the face of tragedy. As Ritchie with a T says, “the show must go on, the show must go.”

  1. Clairo — Sling

Before the release of Sling, I never would have expected an album like this from Clairo, but in retrospect, it sounds like this is the type of music she has been trying to make all along. She almost completely abandons the lo-fi pop sound that made her popular in the first place and dives headfirst into the world of folk music, creating the best singer-songwriter album to come out in years. instrumentally this album is relaxing and comforting in the best way possible, with Clairo’s naturally soft voice perfectly fitting into the sound she is creating. The album sounds quite cohesive, which I am sure working with one main producer(music veteran Jack Antonoff) helps achieve. The songs here all do a great job of reinforcing each other rather than taking away from each other.

As with most singer-songwriter albums, the lyrics play a huge role in what makes this album special. Clairo sounds about twenty years more mature than her actual age, but not the slightest bit out of touch with who she is in the world. There are plenty of moments where a lyrical topic brought up early in the album is further fleshed out later in the album, it is a full picture experience in which every song adds to Clairo’s reflection of herself, her career, potential motherhood, and manipulation, among other things. The songs here deal with timeless topics and give Clairo’s perspective over very warm and beautiful instrumentation. Sling is a massive step forward for Clairo as a singer/songwriter, a very special album to me, and my 2021 album of the year.

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