Hey y’all. It’s David, Everything Is Noise‘s editor-in-chief. All of 2021 has been leading up to this – our top 70 albums of the year, though it just very recently became our top 70. If you remember from previous years, we don’t really aim for any specific number. If we did, we’d surely aim for a more appropriate number like 75 or even 100. You’ll also notice we pushed the release of this article back firmly into 2022 to not only give us time to formulate such a massive article, but to also fully consider each potential album that released in 2021 and December specifically. No reason to rush these things out, right?
2021’s process was pretty similar to last year’s – me and Toni (Inter) spent all year amassing each and every album that caught our fancy, meeting regularly throughout the last half of the year to discuss some picks, weed out some albums that lost luster over time, and see which ones ultimately stood the test of time… at least for the year. At the end, we asked the rest of our 20-plus-person team what their picks for top five albums of the year were, and included at least one from each person, often a couple each though as many were already on mine or Toni’s lists, or multiple other team members also had that pick – if that happened, it made it automatically. Then, the fun part: we ranked. Each member created a top ten from our 70 picks, assigning a rank via points where their absolute toppest top album got ten points and their least favorite (bottom top?) got one point. Toni and I rank all the albums and everything is totaled up – the album with the most points wins.
Wins? Well, really, all the albums on this list win. They’re here for a reason, coveted and loved by at least one or two members of the EIN team, but as you climb higher and higher on the list, the more people that showed love in the rankings, and the more passionate the writing for each album becomes. We do this for the love of the art. We’re writers, we’re music enthusiasts/enjoyers/fans/snobs/etc. and I am once again so proud of all the work we did this year, with this article and otherwise. A special shoutout to Toni who formatted and inserted all of the album blurbs that you’re about to read himself. I love this list, I loved curating it with my pals all year, and we hope you either find something you will love on it or find something you already loved represented on it.
What follows is our top 70 albums of 2021, descending in numerical value yet ascending in overall quality and love we had for it, 22 of them written by me (sorry) and the rest written by my friends here at the site (not sorry). Thanks for reading. 🙂
Feral Season – Rotting Body In The Range Of Light
October 22 // Profound Lore Records
We have a year of great black metal releases behind us, yet Rotting Body In The Range Of Light flew a bit under the radar. Released with the blessing of critics darling Profound Lore Records, Feral Season released a black metal album with a classic feeling, encapsulating grim and harsh soundscapes colored in frost and sepia. For all people looking for a satisfying experience within the genre, this album is your place to be!
Japanese Breakfast – Jubilee
June 4 // Dead Oceans
The third record from Michelle Zauner and co. took my 2021 by storm on the strength of its introspective songwriting/storytelling, vibrant instrumentation, and talismanic anthems like “Be Sweet”. Don’t shrug off its deep cuts, either: “Posing for Cars” builds up in successive waves to a bombastic, cathartic, unleash-my-soul-and- slip-the-Earth’s-surly-bonds crescendo. Jubilee is Japanese Breakfast at their stratospheric peak: emotionally stirring, glorious, and full of hard-earned wisdom.
STUFF. – T(h)reats
May 7 // Sdban Records
An album that’s truly comforting, that probably didn’t make much AOTY lists. Jazz, hip-hop, and electronica beautifully represented. It’s a safe bet for all of you wanting to experience improvisational communication between awesome sounding instruments. Hopefully, it’ll trigger your curiosity to dive deeper into this rabbit-hole style.
-Rodrigo Torres Pinelli
Vessel Of Iniquity – The Doorway
August 6 // Sentient Ruin Laboratories
Vessel of Iniquity is, simply put, way too much on every possible level, and I love it exactly because of that. The Doorway is a whirlwind of abrasive cacophony and monolithic dissonance, and saw the one-man act step up and take tremendous strides forward in what already was a rather distinct musical enterprise. If utter annihilation and death on a universal level were forgotten ancient tunes, Vessel of Iniquity is the sole entity weighed with the knowledge of how to properly sing them.
Ben Seretan – Cicada Waves
April 30 // NNA Tapes
Different (but no less powerful) to the equally brilliant Youth Pastoral, Cicada Waves cultivates an undeniable, profound sense of relaxation. Voiceless, a singular piano drives this ambient wonder, alongside complementing natural sounds from the surrounding environment in which it was captured: birdsong, rainfall, and the hypnotic, droning wash of the titular creatures. Each layer helps strengthen an expansive album that remains my go-to for escapism. A startlingly beautiful, simplistic tapestry of sonic serenity.
Jon Hopkins – Music For Psychedelic Therapy
November 12 // Domino
I’ll be honest – when I saw the title of this album, I *audibly* groaned; it just smacks of self-help cliché. When a record can move you to tears with nothing more than its ambient textures, though, it’s easy to look past any such initial reservations. Jon Hopkins invites us to spend some time in a warm world of comforting drones and soundscapes, allowing us to seek refuge in its healing tones and uplifting messages.
Lil Nas X – Montero
September 17 // Columbia
Lil Nas X dominated the news cycle with his clap back prowess, and attention grabbing marketing techniques that paved the way to one of the funnest releases of the year. Anyone who can elevate Jack Harlow, sell blood shoes, give Satan a lap dance, and make all the conservative Christians melt down gets an A+ in my book. It’s just an added bonus his music matches the sentiment.
Tigers Jaw – I Won’t Care How You Remember Me
March 5 // Hopeless Records
Tigers Jaw is such a cozy and charming band, and this album further solidifies them as stalwarts in modern emo music. It’s gripping front to back, with the opener being one of the best songs the group has ever released. Their brand of Americana-tinged emo never gets old, and when they are writing songs this good, I don’t know that it ever will.
Panopticon – …And Again Into The Light
May 15 // Bindrune
You’re looking at one of, if not the, finest black metal release of the year. Panopticon’s …And Again Into The Light is a masterful culmination of all the sounds Austin Lunn has experimented with until now, elegantly bringing the worlds of black metal and Americana/country together into something you won’t be able to pry yourself from. This magnum opus truly captures the essence of nature with how beautiful and tender, yet fierce and unforgiving it is. This is the kind of record that tears your heart in half with how gorgeously harrowing it is, yet it ignites a fire in that same broken heart with its majestic vision.
Plebeian Grandstand – Rien ne suffit
November 19 // Debemur Morti Records
Rien ne suffit is no album — it’s an experience. Innovative, enthralling, disgusting, and oh so glorious. Plebeian Grandstand have been a staple in the avant-garde black metal scene for a while now, but Rien ne suffit saw them emphasizing their experimental urge through blending numerous stylistic leanings together in a singular manner previously unheard of. In doing so, this quintet produced a definitive highlight on all parameters. For me and for a plethora of others, Rien ne suffit is the best possible kind of crop these aural spectrums are capable of yielding.
Klexos – Apocryphal Parabolam
February 26 // Independent
A very early contender for the best metal album of the year, and predominantly performed by one man, Klexos’ debut was nothing short of astounding. Brimming with technicality and proficiency not seen by many acts until late in their careers, Apocryphal Parabolam is a work of passion, art, and horror. In a year of metal ascendancy, Klexos clawed its way to the top and will continue to climb with each subsequent release.
Kauan – Ice Fleet
April 9 // Artoffact Records
If I had a gun to my head and was told to objectively name the single most elegant, tranquil record of 2021, there would be absolutely zero hesitation in my response. There is only one clear choice and that would be Kauan’s Ice Fleet. This utterly graceful post-rock masterpiece gives you the warmth that your body needs to survive while out on the coldest journey through seemingly endless winter landscapes. Grab yourself a thick coat before you dive into this chilling experience, you’re going to need it.
BPMoore – If I Don’t See You Again
July 30 // Rhodium Publishing
Vientre – Estado de Imago
April 9 // Independent
2021 provided once again a good portion of skramz for those longing for it, and one of the very best examples is easily Vientre‘s heartfelt and intense album Estado de Imago. The Colombian trio dabbles into emo and post hardcore, pumping out some of the beauty the genre has to offer right now. Carrying the torch of great South American skramz, Vientre are a must-listen for everyone interested in skramz and beyond!
Musk Ox – Inheritance
July 9 // Independent
You often hear the phrase ‘a picture is worth a thousand words‘. Well, you tell me; how many words is a spiritual journey depicted by music, specifically Musk Ox’s Inheritance, worth? If you ask me, I don’t think there are enough words or even combinations of words that could even come close to describe how breathtaking Inheritance truly is. This honestly is the type of record that you need to hear to believe it. If you have yet to fall in love with neo-classical/folk, this will be the record to flip that switch for you.
The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die – Illusory Walls
October 8 // Epitaph Records
TWiaBP is a band that has always been hard to pin down, and it’s never been easy to know what to expect from this dynamic group of musicians. Illusory Walls delivered some of the very best emotional music of the year, and blew me away from the first listen. It’s easily the best work of a band that hasn’t had an issue standing out amongst their peers.
Holding Absence – The Greatest Mistake Of My Life
April 16 // Sharptone Records
The Greatest Mistake of My Life is far and away one of the best emo albums of the year, and I think many people will be reminiscing on it when it comes to the close of the decade. This is such a well written album front to back, it flows on a cinematic level. It’s incredibly touching and relatable and also has some of the best vocal hooks of any 2021 release in damn near every track.
Archspire – Bleed The Future
October 29 // Season Of Mist
It’s hard to excel and stand out in tech death these days, but Archspire have always had a leg up on their peers. Bleed the Future was just more, but in a calculated way that showed some growth and expansion in the skill and writing departments. After all, it’s not enough to be the fastest – you need some heart and they got that… along with every other part of the viscera you could imagine.
Charles Rumback – Seven Bridges
November 19 // Astral Spirits
I wanna die wrapped in jazz. As always, Charles Rumback shows how effortlessly he combines smoothness with a creeping and unnerving subtext of composition. Mesmerizing and intricate, Seven Bridges lures you in just to show you that this magical forest is full of meat-eating plants and free-jazzing wolves.
Ad Nauseam – Imperative Imperceptible Impulse
February 12 // Avantgarde Music
If you paid any attention to the metal landscape in the last few years you’ll know there are a variety of trends branching out in multiple directions at any given point. Well, Ad Nauseam have branched out so far they’re a whole new tree. Imperative Imperceptible Impulse is a work of immeasurable immensity where every aspect of every detail matters, and the amount of details on this album is staggering. This is a herculean, heavy, oppressive, dissonant, and powerful album.
Lord Jah-Monte Ogbon – Beautifully Black
November 24 // Jewelery Rap Productions
Based in Charlotte, North Carolina, rapper Lord Jah-Monte Ogbon came to my attention through his work with Navy Blue, who produced Beautifully Black. And let me tell you, not only is the production on this album warm, slick and wholesome, this album features some of the best bars I’ve heard all year, which says a lot in such a strong year for hip hop. Jazzy, abstract hip hop felt rarely more like home like it did on this beautiful record.
Grouper – Shade
October 22 // kranky
Nobody does this kind of crushingly intimate, vulnerable record quite like Liz Harris. Three years after her last release as Grouper, she unveiled Shade, a quiet but intensely gripping collection of songs recorded over 15 years that still manages to harbor a unique and consistent identity. Much more folk-leaning than her most recent œuvre, it nevertheless carries that same sense of wistful, blurred melancholia that Harris captures better than anyone else.
Worm – Foreverglade
October 22 // 20 Buck Spin
If you’re the cavernous death/doom metal type, Worm needs to be on your list just as it’s on ours. Foreverglade feels like traversing a long forgotten realm where sludge and slime outnumber much else, and murk is the only state of being. So, basically, a Dark Souls region. It’s dirty, icky, heavy, and caustic – we wouldn’t want it any other way.
Maxo Kream – WEIGHT OF THE WORLD
October 17 // RCA Records
I feel like a lot of people write off Maxo Kream because of the lane he occupies in hip-hop, but those looking to dig deeper will be greatly rewarded. Maxo’s got a special, heart-wrenching way with words and his storytelling is among the best in the genre currently, all laced over vintage-tinged trap production and joined by first-class features. WEIGHT OF THE WORLD is about as real as it gets.
Porter Robinson – Nurture
April 23 // Mom + Pop Music
Nurture is the feel-good album of 2021. Porter Robinson returns to the spotlight with one of the most heartwarming resurgences anyone could imagine. Going from a low place and not knowing if he wanted to continue with music to this is monumental to say the least. It’s insightful, encouraging, and makes you feel like it’s okay to not be okay, because there’s always tomorrow.
Trade Wind – The Day We Got What We Deserved
May 21 // Other People Records
The Day We Got What We Deserved is one of the more delicate albums on this list. It really captures some hyper-specific feelings of longing, nostalgia, listlessness, and so much more. Between stretches of time spent with relentless metal and dense hip-hop, Trade Wind is always such a welcome reprieve. Just sit back with headphones and lose yourself – allow feelings and thoughts to surface with this intimate, warm indie/folk music.
McKinley Dixon – For My Mama And Anyone Who Look Like Her
May 7 // Spacebomb
Dixon describes his music as ‘Music Gerald from Hey Arnold would listen to’ which is something immediately understandable in the ’90s kid, referential manner that gets pandered to us constantly. Though with Dixon, it’s different. This is one of the most sincere and powerful albums you can listen to this year, focusing on masculinity, grief, authenticity, healing, all from the experience of a Black man in America and over live instrumentation. Stellar hip-hop.
The Silver – Ward of Roses
October 15 // Gilead Media
If you asked for one of the most diverse heavy albums of 2021, this would likely be my pick. Somewhere between death, black, dark/gothic, and thrash metal rest The Silver, a band with an impressive pedigree that sounds nothing like the members’ other projects (Horrendous, Crypt Sermon, etc.). Ward of Roses feels imposingly romantic, stately, and unforeseen; a concoction of forward-thinking metal that is truly different from the rest.
Son Lux – Tomorrows III
April 16 // City Slang
Tomorrows III ends Son Lux‘ trilogy which started in 2020, so this spot not only stands for the last installment of said trilogy, but for the whole concept. Those three records mark the strongest and most wonderful statement of Son Lux‘s career, and while it can be much to ask to take 111 minutes to listen through the whole masterpiece, the experience you get is utterly rewarding.
Epiphanic Truth – Dark Triad: Bitter Psalms To A Sordid Species
May 21 // Church Road Records
Vince Staples – Vince Staples
July 9 // Motown/Blacksmith Records
22 minutes of chaotic neutral glory primed for back to back listens. Vince grows his mythos with earnest maturity, and lets folks into a world with more clarity than ever before. The richness of his flow is both approachable and weary. “ARE YOU WITH THAT”, “TAKE ME HOME”, and “LIL FADE” shine just slightly brighter in steep competition with the rest. Best release in rap this year, hands down.
Green Lung – Black Harvest
October 22 // Svart Records
Hailing from England, Green Lung are easily the best classic heavy/stoner/doom metal band I’ve heard since Magic Circle (RIP). They got a notable amount of praise this year with Black Harvest and rightfully so. The writing, how well it’s all executed with a finely aged sound, and how they managed to stand out from the pack is all nothing short of extraordinary, just like their stories of occult legend and the supernatural.
Boss Keloid – Family the Smiling Thrush
June 4 // Ripple Music
Still one of the most powerful and emotional albums I’ve heard this year. So much melody and vocal prowess within Family The Smiling Thrush, it just elevated an already amazing prog/stoner metal band to truly ascended heights. “Gentle Clovis” almost single-handedly got me through 2021. Boss Keloid really did their thing here.
Five The Hierophant – Through Aureate Void
February 26 // Karisma/Dark Essence Records
I love jazz the most when it’s infused with other sounds. Hip-hop? Yee. Rock fusion? Yee. Doom metal? …Yee? Five The Hierophant isn’t a hard sell on its own – dark atmosphere and foreboding weight mixed with the eclectic, limitless potential of traditional jazz instruments and structure. Listening to it is otherworldly though, a vast interdimensional trip that gives you galaxy brain feelings and maybe some vertigo if you’re not careful. Very fun and unique.
Dreamwell – Modern Grotesque
February 26 // Independent
Modern screamo doesn’t get much better than this. Modern Grotesque is equal parts devastating and charming. It’s filled with some of the most memorable riffs the genre had to offer this year, and is excellently written. It absolutely swells with angst at every seam until it bursts forth in impassioned cacophony time and time again.
Black Sheep Wall – Songs for the Enamel Queen
February 26 // Silent Pendulum Records
Black Sheep Wall have come a long way since I Am God Songs. In the vein of bands like Admiral Angry, the band made waves with their crushingly heavy sludge, only to progress into a compelling bastard of post metal, noise rock, and hardcore. Songs for the Enamel Queen shows a band bringing their roots in balance with mature songwriting and conceptual artistry, and I’m excited what the future brings for them.
Men I Trust – Untourable Album
August 25 // Independent
Men I Trust are the very definition of chill. With the aptly (and hilariously) titled Untourable Album, the mood is pitch perfect throughout, with laid back beats and vocals skate across the atmosphere like blades on ice. It’s impossible to listen to this record without getting lost in the charms and its spell lasts through the entire 13 tracks. Songwriting is always key and Men I Trust are locksmiths, plain and simple.
Really From – Really From
March 12 // Topshelf Records
This is one of those bands that should be in everyone’s musical radar – just give Really From a spin and you’ll know why. Really From do not hold their genre-bending conventions and social convictions back on this self-titled album, as their masterful jazz chops dance ever so smoothly with heartfelt indie and tasteful math rock sensibilities, all the while posing powerful conversations about identity, belonging, and intergenerational struggles.
’68 – Give One Take One
March 26 // Cooking Vinyl
It’s difficult to imagine a better rock record that came out in ‘21. Josh Scogin and company perfected the combination of snappy songwriting, swagger, and intelligence with Give One Take One. With each song came a bevy of bawdy riffs and witty lyrics all perfectly spaced out across its 40 minutes. This album strikes the balance between precision and chaos, nostalgia and progress.
Tyler, The Creator – CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST
June 25 // Columbia
Tyler’s been a very interesting artist to follow for a decade, and this album seems like the culmination of years of growth and the desire to call back to a time when beats just had to go hard, you could rap about whatever, and tell whatever stories you wanted. CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST is sensitive, opulent, but most of all, confident in its execution. Pure Tyler.
Bent Knee – Frosting
November 5 // Take This To Heart Records
I’m going to be honest: After their last two records, I wrote Bent Knee off as one of those bands with huge potential, which burned down quickly after they moved to a bigger label. With the release of Frosting, I’m glad to say was never more relieved to be wrong. Bent Knee bottled up all their talent, only to let it pop like a spout of glittery greatness, delivering one of the most impressive and reanimating albums of 2021.
LLNN – Unmaker
September 24 // Pelagic Records
Unmaker is of such magnitude, of such weight, of such engorged girth, that it sounds like it’s trying to literally unmake the universe at times. Cinematic and crushing, LLNN pieced together a powerful, world-ending experience, one that should not be missed. I repeat: SHOULD NOT BE MISSED.
NOT WONK – dimen
January 27 // cutting edge
You’ll probably never listen to an album which sounds remotely like dimen, the fourth album by Japanese art/noise rock outfit NOT WONK. Be it their pirouetting through various styles, or the infectious hooks delivered by Shuhei Kato’s unique vocals: You won’t regret falling in love with this band.
BLACKSHAPE – BLACKSHAPE
April 23 // Independent
Inspired post-rock and dissonant math-core come together at last on BLACKSHAPE’s impressive self-titled album? Hallelujah! As heavy as it is delicate, this LP is an insane audible spiral, looping on itself like overused serpents swallowing their hack tails. Essential 2021 listening.
Odette – Herald
February 5 // EMI Music Australia
Odette is something special. Here’s a very articulate, clean, yet different take on art pop with an electronic edge that doesn’t lack any of the heart or organics traditionalists favor. With poets like Walt Whitman and John Keats among her lyrical influences, you can see (hear) why much of the writing here feels elevated and emotional, but remains relatable. Herald is a treat through and through.
The Physics House Band – Incident On 3rd
December 3 // Unearthly Vision
Still fresh in my mind is the mark that Incident On 3rd left behind. The most recent release on this list, recency bias isn’t really in effect when you take into account how adept The Physics House Band are at stirring minds with every effort of their jazz/rock fusion. This is the perfect album to get lost in – just make sure to leave a bread crumb trail for yourself.
Ka – A Martyr’s Reward
August 13 // Iron Works Records
Sit down, make yourself comfortable, and put on A Martyr’s Reward. It took a couple of spins for me to get a grip of this record, but after the fantastic Hermit and the Recluse album some years back, I knew that patience would be worth it. Ka‘s released another breathtaking record, and I’m excited to dive deeper and deeper into this record.
Delta Sleep – Spring Island
November 12 // Sofa Boy Records
Delta Sleep consistently deliver and continue to be one of the best bands in modern music. The juxtaposition of beautiful, twinkly instrumentals and jovial vocal delivery with the often scathing and depressing lyricism is something they have mastered at this point. Spring Island is a ton of fun, and has some of the most memorable songs of 2021 to me.
Boldy James & The Alchemist – Bo Jackson
August 13 // ALC
Sharing this album recently, I said it feels like a misdemeanor to listen to, and I stand by that. I don’t believe The Alchemist has been grittier than he is on Bo Jackson (a feat in and of itself because dude’s production is grimy), and Boldy James has been a downright unsung hero of drug-focused, crime-minded rap in the last few years. Together? Near unstoppable, like a bulletproof vest.
Deafheaven – Infinite Granite
August 20 // Sargent House
Goes without saying that Deafheaven took a tremendous leap to the unknown with Infinite Granite, after solidifying their position in the blackgaze scene during the past decade through quite the unwarranted controversy surrounding their non-kvlt approach to things. Infinite Granite saw the band abandoning most of their black metal leanings and substitute them with nearly pop-esque tendencies, positive vibes, and overwhelming ambiance, and they’re all the better for it. You can but appreciate the fact that Deafheaven bows to no directions and only serves their own artistic vision and integrity.
Altarage – Succumb
April 23 // Season Of Mist
Is there something heavier than Altarage on this planet? I highly doubt it. The anonymous Spanish group has been churning out material steadily ever since their inception, digging deeper into the realms of cavernous and discordant, pummeling death metal by each passing release, reaching their current peak on Succumb. The hellish atmosphere on the album is like a tonal vortex grabbing its listener firmly and holding on to them throughout its duration, aptly forcing you to succumb to it along the way. Altarage are truly unique in their craft, Succumb being an elaborate testament to the fact.
Black Country, New Road – For the first time
February 5 // Ninja Tune
The world’s second best Slint tribute act. The absolute pinnacle of British engineering. Ladies, gents, and non-binary folks, Black Country, New Road is quite something else. For The First Time more than exceeded expectations as the band curates six tracks of pure, feverish oddity. Their knack for urgent musicality – coupled with frontman Isaac Wood’s anxious yet riveting vocal delivery – make for a truly engrossing listening experience.
Sermon Of Flames – I Have Seen The Light, And It Was Repulsive
September 3 // I, Voidhanger Records
Heavy, and I mean heavy, shit. Just a cacophony of death, black, and sludge metal, converging at an explosive apex that, yes, has melody and structure, but everything else surrounding it seems to have been obliterated from the sheer force. This out-of-nowhere album was the hammer with which we beat through 2021 and it will likely endure to further years – until Sermon of Flames’ next record.
Morly – ‘Til I Start Speaking
August 20 // Cascine
Music is made of moments, stitched together and packaged as sellable things that we plug into our ears. Well, Morly has an entire apothecary of moments for sale on ‘Til I Start Speaking. From the drums entrance on “I Dance To You” to the chorus lead in on “Sleeping In My Own Bed.” The production is used as a clever tool here that enhances every note played and sung. There’s no finer example of R&B-informed bedroom pop in the last few years. Light a candle, open some wine, and press play; it’s a trip worth taking, again and again.
Lingua Ignota – SINNER GET READY
August 6 // Sargent House
SINNER GET READY is an absolute reckoning with faith, God, betrayal, devotion, abuse, revenge, grace, and so, so much more. It feels boundless in its themes, execution, and weight, easily being one of the hardest albums to describe on this list. Knowing some of the context behind this album brings the emotional weight careening into you like a sledgehammer to the ribs. Lingua Ignota is currently unmatched when it comes to experimental music.
BIG|BRAVE – VITAL
April 23 // Southern Lord
BIG|BRAVE is immense and very hard to describe in a short time. So much of their effort is placed on heavy atmosphere and emotion that other conventionally musical metrics like riffs and melody seem to dissolve in the process. The trio hammers and belts away in a bid to penetrate your soul and mind. VITAL was quite the success in that regard, urging you to consider aspects of identity and self in the process.
Turnstile – GLOW ON
August 27 // Roadrunner Records
GLOW ON was a surprise of sorts, but really, Turnstile had been working up this point for a few years now, edging ever closer to an effervescent, ruleless take on hardcore and punk. It seems like the first goal of this album was to have a fun time and it’s very apparent that goal was exceedingly met with one of the year’s best feel-good albums coming when we needed it most.
Landlady – Landlady
March 18 // Landladyland
Landlady the album oozes more charm than a used car salesman trying to meet quota with little more than a couple of busted-up lemons and jalopies. And yet, Landlady’s self-titled effort isn’t just a lighthearted frolic around the indie pop maypole. Oddball rhythms, vibraphone-filled codas, and ambitious song structures elevate the Brooklyn-based outfit miles above the teeming seas of milquetoast Grizzly Bear imitators to whom they are unrightfully compared.
Genghis Tron – Dream Weapon
March 26 // Relapse Records
If Board Up The House was a nuclear-grade detonation levelling the world, then Dream Weapon is the long-awaited, lush aftermath of mother nature reclaiming the Earth. Through a victorious new album driven by a dynamic and crisp sound, all with a new lineup, a gloriously fresh era of Genghis Tron begins.
Julien Baker – Little Oblivions
February 26 // Matador Records
2021 saw the wonderful Julien Baker move from quiet introspection towards a larger scale band focused album (even if she did play most of the parts herself). Already known for emotionally heavy content, Little Oblivions took this to the next level, with religion, alcohol abuse, and self-reflection featuring heavily. Arguably her finest work to date, Little Oblivions more than deserves its place in our Top 70.
Silk Sonic – An Evening With Silk Sonic
November 12 // Aftermath/Atlantic
By far the smoothest album on this list, or any list. It wasn’t hard to see from the first single that this was going to be a velvety, indulgent, sexy experience and Silk Sonic delivered on all fronts. Some of the year’s funnest songs reside on this album, injecting summer warmth into your life no matter the season with classic soul, funk, and R&B stylings.
Injury Reserve – By The Time I Get To Phoenix
September 15 // Independent
On June 29, 2020, Injury Reserve broke. Rapper Stepa J Groggs passed away and the future of the alternative hip-hop group hung in the balance. Over a year later, By The Time I Get To Phoenix came out and showed a band chaotically reckoning with that pain, themselves in general, and a world greatly changed since their last release. It’s rarely coherent and clean, but then again, neither is grief.
Sugar Horse – The Live Long After
August 27 // Small Pond
I consumed this record so much it gave me cavities. It has it all: atmospheric prog passages, lumbering doom, ethereal gaze, hints of post-rock textures, and riffs that stick for weeks. Sugar Horse glaze these flavours with soaring vocal performances for a true powerhouse of an album. Hell, it’s even got humourous song titles titles to boot! Being consistently top-tier from striking start to fantastic finish, you’re guaranteed to develop a sweet tooth for this one.
Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders and the London Symphony Orchestra – Promises
March 26 // Luaka Bop
If 2021 was a ravaging sea, then Promises was the vessel that kept the music community afloat. What Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders, and the London Symphony Orchestra manifested in this once-in-a-lifetime collaboration is that not all is lost, whether it is through the contemplative (and unforgettable) seven-note motif, the cathartic orchestral crescendos, or the reassuring tact coming from Sanders’ stirring performance. Promises is but a reaffirmation of this artform we’ve all come to love.
Little Simz – Sometimes I Might Be Introvert
September 3 // AWAL/Age 101 Music
I was so happy to see Little Simz get a lot of love this year because, more than ever, it was deserved. Sometimes I Might Be Introvert was an absolute masterclass of reflective, introspective, larger-than-life hip-hop, spanning a number of influences and tones, all expertly delivered by UK’s finest artist as far as I’m concerned. Nowhere to go but up from here for Simz – a true generational voice.
Hiatus Kaiyote – Mood Valiant
June 25 // Brainfeeder
Mood Valiant is so delicate and transcendent, literally anything I say (or did say) won’t properly encase its magic. This is one of those albums you just have to bask in yourself, taking in every sound, letting every lyric sweetly sung by Nai Palm wash over you, and see how you feel at the end of it all. Hiatus Kaiyote are one of the best out right now.
Cynic – Ascension Codes
November 26 // Season Of Mist
No album in 2021 will come close to evoking the feeling of comfort and healing as transcendental as Ascension Codes. With the heartbreaking loss of core members Sean Malone and Sean Reinert, Paul Masvidal and company contemplate and challenge the notion of death, unleashing a prog rock journey brimming with wonder, celestial energy and – of course – sincere gratitude. Easily one of Cynic’s strongest outputs to date.
Low – HEY WHAT
September 10 // Sub Pop
This is the sound of honest human emotion in the digital age. I don’t know how they did it, but with HEY WHAT, Low managed to outdo their 2018 album Double Negative on every front, which I did not expect would be possible for them to do. They have this special gift of being consoling even at their most forward-thinking, which places them at the very spearhead of the indie scene even 28 years into their career.
Boy, it just seems like these sorts of collabs can’t go wrong, huh? Converge and Chelsea Wolfe combine efforts for an equally powerful and haunting excursion into some dark territory, bringing the best out of each other, and creating a full-fledged project well worth the effort. Personally, it’s hard to think of many other collabs from 2021 that fared just as well under their own weight. It’s a post-metal monolith.
BRUIT ≤ – The Machine Is Burning And Now Everyone Knows It Can Happen Again
April 2 // Independent
Categorise this record at your peril – BRUIT ≤ managed to pour a little bit of everything into the post-rock/neoclassical based The Machine Is Burning And Now Everyone Knows It Can Happen Again. This album pulls you in deep from the opening notes, taking you on a journey and asking the listener to question and reflect on their very existence. A short blurb is not enough to describe this record. Suffice to say, if you haven’t listened to it yet, what are you waiting for?