LIST: The 50 Best Albums of 2021
Updated: Jan 2, 2022
* = released on December 25, 2020
50. Trippie Redd, Tripp At Knight
While Tripp At Knight may suffer from a lack of substance and some samey flows on the part of Trippie, it’s the production that makes this album so infectious. Continuing with the same arcadey, Pi’erre Bourne-inspired beat work of Playboi Carti’s Whole Lotta Red, this record has been pivotal in changing the rap landscape according to our Los Angeles producer sources. On top of that, Trippie is able to gain some of SoundCloud-era swagger back with features from his late friends XXXTentacion and Juice WRLD, and successfully brings himself back into the zeitgeist with A-lister assists from Drake and Playboi Carti.
49. The Marias, CINEMA
The Marías, a psychedelic indie band based in Los Angeles, California, released one of their most expressive albums yet—CINEMA. Opening with the melancholy strings of tracks like “Just a Feeling,” and fearlessly transitioning to the surprising upbeat tempo of “Calling U Back,” CINEMA has no boundaries. The group’s lead singer, María Zardoya, gracefully switches between speaking in English and Spanish, enveloping listeners in a beautifully vibrant combination of sound and vision, paralleling the album cover of a deep red room and pure white swan.
-@mitskilipstick aka Charlotte
48. Arlo Parks, Collapsed In Sunbeams
Arlo Parks’ debut is a great introduction to a budding UK singer-songwriter. While tonally it feels very sunny, it’s darker lyrical content is what makes it standout, making the listener do a double-take. For example, the bassy production masks the jealousy present on “Eugene”, it’s so witty that you have no choice but to be on Arlo’s side.
47. Polo G, Hall of Fame
Polo G owned the acoustic guitar and piano trap lane this year, memes and all. “RAPSTAR” is a prime example of this, a pop smash that blends his singular talents as an artist into one place, showing that rap is the new pop. His storytelling capabilities are also on full display as on the vengeful “Bloody Canvas”, overall this is one of the better commercial rap records of 2021.
46. Lil Baby / Lil Durk, The Voice of the Heroes
Voice of the Heroes was the long-awaited collab between rap giants Lil Baby and Lil Durk. Initially we were all really impressed with the number of banger tracks, especially in the opening of the album. The intro run of “Voice of the Heroes”, “2040”, and “Hats Off” (feat. Travis Scott), set a really high bar for the album, which unfortunately ended up hurting it in the long run. We felt the end of the album couldn’t hold up to the beginning, which at the time made it really forgettable. This album has definitely improved with age, especially the songs in the middle of the albums. “Still Hood” produced by London on the Track and “Okay” are some of my favorites. Ultimately I think this ended up being one of the best mainstream rap albums of the year.
45. Wiki, Half God
Wiki, for many years now, has been the premiere pauper of modern rap. Years passed the hiatus of his group RATKING, Wiki’s pen has only gotten sharper, in fact he’s carved it into a shiv. “Drug Supplier” sounds like a side-plot from Max Payne 2, it’s pulpy and cliche but lyrics like “If he only had a couple more minutes in him ‘til the doctor came/But that wasn’t the case/He was lost before his life was lost that day'' hit me like a right hook. Wiki harshness the boom-bap that Navy Blue provides him like a superpower, describing his city like a storybook.
44. Porter Robinson, Nurture
EDM is one of the few genres where stellar albums are hard to come by, because the majority of the marketing revolves around singles. With a strong and a deep love and appreciation for Japanese culture, Porter Robinson is able to bring the beauty of anime films like Castle In The Sky into a concise and fun hour of material, faltering only a few times along the way with odd experiments. “Musician” evokes prime-era Daft Punk with it’s digitized playfulness, while “Sweet Time” offers more reflective and untouched vocals and production.
43. Little Simz, Sometimes I Might Be Introvert
On her best effort yet, Little Simz has a lot to say and a varying arsenal of sound to get her point across. Whether celebrating feminine energy over neo-soul on “Woman”, getting braggadocious over contemporary trap on “Rollin Stone” or seducing a lover on the candlelit “I See You”, Little Simz is always in complete control of her surroundings. Just listening to the tale on “Little Q, Pt. 2”, where she puts herself in the perspective of a young man who almost fatally stabbed her cousin shows a person who sees the world in 360 degrees, never failing to give the listener a holistic experience.
42. Godspeed You! Black Emperor, G_d’s Pee AT STATE’s END!
Post-rock, like ambient, has historically been one of the best genres to tell stories without words. The expansiveness of the song structures and heavy use of crescendos allows bands like Mogwai and Godspeed You! Black Emperor to fully flesh out epic motifs. While G_d’s Pee… is far from the best Godspeed record, it’s focus on apocalypse and anarchism sets it apart from the rest of their discography, especially in the context of COVID. They break their typical 20-minute tracks into smaller, more digestible pieces, with bits of radio banter and field recording in between to fully realize the “end of times” angle.
41. Clairo, Sling
Sophomore projects provide a lane for artists to make the album they want, rather than just run back the sounds that put them on in the first place. Clairo has never stopped redefining her sound, moving away from the DIY keyboard pop of “Flaming Hot Cheetos” to a more fleshed indie rock on Immunity, so we were definitely expecting another change up from Sling, which we definitely received. Teaming with prolific producer Jack Antonoff, she brings the same homespun spirit present on her early singles but through the lens of cozy, ‘70s AM pop a la The Carpenters. The maturity and songwriting prowess has leveled up as a result, with the anti-objectification ballad “Blouse” and the deceptively upbeat “Amoeba” being two of her very best songs to date. It’s great to see Clairo making the music she wants, and we hope her cult-like fanbase stays onboard.
40. Claud, Super Monster
The first signee to Phoebe Bridgers’ Saddest Factory imprint distinguishes themselves from their boss with a record that can only be described as “pure”. There is still depth and specificity in the tales of love on the rocks and late-night parties, it’s just in a much cuter package than many other albums of this ilk. “Ana” with Nick Hakim feels so heartfelt and dire as a result of this pre-established sincerity, as does “Soft Spot”, a track that accurately describes that post-breakup connection many people have with their exes, regardless if it’s requinted.
39. Doja Cat, Planet Her
Maybe Doja Cat is not enjoying making R&B, but we have enjoyed listening to it quite a bit. Aftering hearing the two singles “Kiss Me More” with SZA and “Need To Know”, we knew we were in for some sexy space pop. While the styles presented don’t vary up too often, and the features sometimes take over (Ariana Grande specifically), Doja shines through with her out-of-pocket ethos and solid vocal performances.
38. Faye Webster, I Know I'm Funny Haha
37. The War On Drugs, I Don’t Live Here Anymore
In our recent conversation on Fluxpod, host Matthew Perpetua described this record as a Bryan Adams record from the ‘90s that got shelved for having no hits. While Matthew is not wrong, I think that was kind of the point. Bandleader Adam Granduciel has artists like Adams and even Hall and Oates deep in his DNA, the cheesy rock bombast of the ‘80s follows him around no matter how many 12 minute songs he choses to make. I Don’t Live Here Anymore feels like a shameless (in a cool way) indulgence in more simple, Springsteen-influenced sound, bringing his musical origins and modern existential crises full circle. Look no further than the immaculately produced title track to understand what we’re saying, Granduciel isn’t ashamed to just go for it all the way, and it pays off.
36. Squid, Bright Green Field
As we move down this list, take notice of the amount of debuts that pop up, because there aren’t many. Squid is a post-punk outfit coming out of the UK that is bold and ambitious, dropping 8 minute opuses like “Boy Racers” and our favorite, “Paddling” with a style that is hard to properly describe. Lead singer Ollie Judge’s vocals are reminiscent of David Bryne in the way he yelps, but he has his own distinct songwriting style that makes us excited for the future of this group.
35. Billie Eilish, Happier Than Ever
Billie Eilish and Clairo were definitely in similar predicaments with their respective second records. In our opinion, while Eilish’s debut “stands out” more on a visceral level, Happier Than Ever is the superior and more mature album in her discography. She just sounds super jaded on cuts like “I Didn’t Change My Number” and the stalker-referencing “NDA”, the music feels like it comes from a place of experience rather than speculation. The title track is one of her very best, carefully building up suspense to a cathartic, headbanging release. Yes, this album is inescapable, but like The Weeknd’s masterpiece After Hours, maybe that’s how it should be.
34. Turnstile, GLOW ON
When people admire the beauty of a butterfly, they often fail to recognize all the hard work that it took to get to that point. After toiling in the underground and having moderate success with their studio output, Turnstile are finally at the next level of their career. Somehow, they were able to inject their hardcore style with Blood Orange and Two Door Cinema Club pastel tones without sounding goofy. It’s experiments like “UNDERWATER BOI” and “ALIEN LOVE CALL” that go so right and prove that risk taking is still worthwhile in this homogenized musical landscape.
33. Drakeo The Ruler, The Truth Hurts
Rest In Peace To The Ruler. After being held on bail for a murder charge he was acquitted on, Drakeo The Ruler was a free man and had been prolific with his mixtape releases. He left his mark with his prison record Thank You For Using GTL and the more concise The Truth Hurts. Drakeo’s patented low vocal register made us lean in to hear phrases like “We got the engineer scared, too many guns in here” and “I just bought ten shooters, finna pay their bail”. He is simultaneously stone faced while riffing on bangers like “Dawn Toliver” and “Tear The Club Up”, a refreshing combination that makes the tape instantly replayable, ending on a high note with the Drake featuring “Talk To Me”.
32. Spellling, The Turning Wheel
Spellling’s greatest record feels like a one-woman show about fate and the meaning of life. Gorgeously arranged ballads like “Little Deer” feel so lively in their instrumental quality, rich with textures of horns, strings, drums, bass and soaring vocals from Spellling herself. It feels like a singular vision that plays out over the course of an album, stopping along the way to highlight characters like the “Emperor with an Egg” or the “Queen of Wands”. The record combines traditional symphony sounds with ‘70s John Carpenter scoring, R&B and singer-songwriter music, sometimes all in one track. It’s a spellbinding, captivating listen that will have you giving a standing ovation at the end.
31. Low, Hey What
Soundplay is an underappreciated element of modern music, one that we hope to highlight in this particular list. I was first turned onto this one by the gripping single “Days Like These”, which experiments with distortion and amplified vocals before drifting into spacious ambience. The record that surrounds “Days Like These” feels like it all flows from the same stream, finding different ways to blow out the levels and reverberate. “I Can Wait” talks about consequences and burdens with this intense guitar line accenting each half measure. As it gets to the end of the song, the guitar is chiseled down and muted, becoming a part of the dust cloud. The album flows freely in this cloud, picking up spare frequencies with each new song.
30. Arca, kICK iiiii
The most contemplative and sparse of the four new Arca records is definitely the minimalistic kICK iiiii. While there are some vocal tracks like the lovelorn “Tierno” or the brutal closing chaos of “Crown”, the majority of the runtime is spent like a score to an unfinished part of a video game, a level that is lost in the coding. Tracks like “Estrogen” and “Pu” use these very contemplative MIDI instruments that are perfect background noise. I feel as though a good instrumental record is not sought after enough, with this being my favorite since Daniel Lopatin’s Uncut Gems soundtrack from 2019. It evokes without trying too hard or going too soft.
29. Westside Gunn, Hitler Wears Hermes: Side B
28. The Armed, ULTRAPOP
27. Armand Hammer, Haram
Have you ever smoked a blunt to relax and instead it brings you loads of anxiety and makes you feel dirty? That’s essentially what listening to Haram feels like, opening with hastily spit lyrics like “Every night, he'd drink and piss up the mattress” on the opener “Sir Benni Miles”. Each track feels like an impressionist vignette, describing a similar underbelly as MC Ride did on The Money Store, with the vintage and grimy sonics from rap’s most consistent modern producer The Alchemist. billy woods and ELUSIVE are able to keep their experimentalism while still sounding catchy, Haram is a phenomenon in this way. How else could you describe the simulataenous discomfort and chill stoner vibez that “Falling out the Sky” with Earl Sweatshirt brings? This one will creep up on you if you let it, and you should.
26. shame, Drunk Tank Pink
Drunk Tank Pink is a walk through the troubles of a lost 20-something who is plagued by intrusive thoughts and existential dread. To accurately portray this, or rather to combat it, shame drunges up the sounds of Wire and Gang of Four to exercise all the mayhem of daily living. On “Nigel Hitter”, as the lead singer sings “It just goes on…”, it sounds less like a hook and more like a scream for help. Contrary to what some media outlets may say, I feel like shame transcends their influences, toying with the sound just enough to make something entirely fresh sounding. The expansive “Snow Day” is a prime example, it starts as a calmly narrated tale before devolving into a full-blown manic episode by the end, with the drums and guitars perfectly matching the energy. Even on tracks like the short “6/1”, the band finds new ways to mosh without getting lost in the shuffle. As one of our earliest reviews this year, we can confidently say that it’s aged gloriously, still sounding fresh after all these months.
25. Lingua Ignota, SINNER GET READY
24. Bladee, The Fool
Bladee has created a new genre of person: the God fearing E-boy. Bringing his angel number obsession it’s logical conclusion, the Drain Gang captain and his producer Lusi wrench up the ascension. On “Let’s Ride”, Swedishly croons about sacrificing his Moncler and having a 360 deal with God, and on the sticky “Thee 9 Is Up”, he raps “I’m not Christian but I’m busting down the cross”. “I take a bunch of words and make them mean something” followed by “I’m going trashstar crazy” on the best track “Hotel Breakfast” highlights Bladee’s top-tier level of confidence; if we don’t understand him, we’re just not in the know. Maybe in ten years, everyone will be wearing clear Yankee hats and goggles, and we’ll have Bladee to thank.
23. Sufjan Stevens & Angelo De Augustine, A Beginner’s Mind
Sufjan Stevens is an underappreciated surveyor of American culture. His original goal was to write the album equivalent to a postcard for each of the fifty states, only hitting two before moving onto electronic and ambient experimentations and commissioned songs for Call Me By Your Name. His connections with film has seemed to continue with his newest collaborative effort with fellow songwriter and Ashtmatic Kitty signee Angelo De Augustine. The pair isolated themselves in a cabin and watched films from Criterion Essentials (City of Angels, All About Eve) to “Popcorn Classics” (Bring It On Again, Hellraiser III) to cult favorites (The Thing, Return to Oz), and recorded 14 tracks, one per film. The results are bountiful, from the Bon Jovi riffing “You Give Death A Bad Name” to the Silence of the Lambs retcon “Cimmerian Shade”, it’s clear Stevens and De Augustine are totally on the same page, or scene, for that matter.
22. Mdou Moctar, Afrique Victime
21. Magdalena Bay, Mercurial World
Conceived over the ongoing pandemic, Magdalena Bay surprised everyone by releasing one of the best debuts of the year. With influences ranging from Grimes to Charli XCX, the duo crafted a record that's as colorful as pop gets. Mercurial World opens an entrance into the virtual world we live in, where tracks like "You Lose!", a video game-y noise pop banger, or "Dreamcatching", a pixelated glimmer of hope in audio form, serve as a way to numb the pains of the current worldwide situation.
20. Lana Del Rey, Chemtrails Over The Country Club
Chemtrails was Lana’s seventh album and second release guided by producer Jack Antonoff. Me and Troy both really enjoyed this album. It felt almost like Lana’s take on genre, with each song feeling like a slice from a different setting or time period. It was by far her most intentionally cinematic record. “Yosemite” felt like it could have been lifted out of a spaghetti western, and was one of my favorite records from the album. Jack Antonoff’s presence can be felt throughout the album with Lana singing some of her catchiest riffs, and runs. “White Dress” was a vocal masterpiece, equal parts art deco and noir. The title track, “Chemtrails Over the Country Club” felt like floating in the country club pool on a morphine microdose
19. Floating Points/Pharaoh Sanders/London Symphony Orchestra, Promises
With attention spans getting increasingly shorter, a great AntiAlbum is one that can get people to slow down and focus. While we have never particularly been fans of either Floating Points or Pharoah Sanders, I deeply appreciate their work as a team, connecting with the London Symphony Orchestra to fully flesh out their vision. The first seven tracks are completely led by this repeating piano motif that evokes hypnosis. Once the listener is locked in, dazing string arrangements, organs, spacey sound effects and godly saxophone solos from Sanders keep them stunned. The piece in nine movements is transcendent, existing in a dimension between time and space.
18. Kero Kero Bonito, Civilisation
Bonito Generation is one of those albums that attacks such a specific niche that it’s going to cause either extreme hatred or cult-like fandom. It’s unexpectedly intricate beat work and bubbly vocals from Sarah Bonito almost created a genre in and of itself, which seems to be fully capitalized on by the newest KKB record, Civilisation. Switching from Yo Gabba Gabba to Dungeons & Dragons is an interesting decision that plays out magnificently. Yes, it is a concept album about the world coming to an end, but it’s just as much a peer into the life of Sarah herself. On “The Princess and the Clock”, she is a trapped artist looking to be set free, moving onto more creative pursuits (allegory for her making this album), and on “21/04/20”, she laments the pandemic lockdown. It all ends with the behemoth “West Rested”, their greatest achievement yet. The group evokes the sounds of Daft Punk, arcade games and funk to underpin this cult like “ascension”, it’s not just thematically satisfying but also just a huge banger. That specific quality is a good way to describe the record itself, if you don’t want to study lore, then just dance!
17. Japanese Breakfast, Jubilee
Not too many artists have had a better 2021 than Michelle Zauner, whose indie pop project, Japanese Breakfast, received a Grammy nomination for Best New Artist. Jubilee is Japanese Breakfast’s most realized work yet. Emotionally, the opener “Paprika” isn’t merely happy, it's an explosion of pure joy, a deep magical feeling that surrounds and overwhelms you. However, the album isn’t all flowers and rainbows. In a 2021 NPR interview Zauner said, “Especially during these times, I realize how precious and rare of a commodity joy is, and how we are all sort of chasing this sort of fleeting feeling in our lives”. This is apparent in tracks such as “In Hell” and “Sit”. Jubilee is about the things we love and hold dear even if they only exist as memories now.. Like the Pavement-evoking “Kokomo IN”, “Savage Good Boy” sees Zauner writing from the perspective of a character. This one is a rich man who wants to sit out the apocalypse (that he partially caused) with his lover in a “billion dollar bunker”. Produced by Alex G, it has many of the iconic features that are associated with his music such as pitch shifted vocals, hard panned low piano notes, and a morally questionable protagonist. Jubilee has continued to be one of my favorite listens this year, especially during the summer when it was first released. It gives you something new to perceive with each new listen. There’s much reason to be excited about the future of Michelle Zauner’s art and music.
-@hp4everz aka Harrison
16. Navy Blue, Song of Sage: Post-Panic!
“His name is Sage” a dissonant voice proclaims on “Dreams of a Distant Journey”, followed by “troubled son, troubled son/On the run/These days you never know/My father told me get a gun”. The topics are not subtle on Song of Sage, nor would we need them to be. Police killings, gentrification, repressed grief, COVID – these are issues that might find you even if you don’t go looking for them. Rather than continue to fuel the unsustainable rap “machismo”, Sage Elsesser aka Navy Blue is unafraid to get emotional and journalistic in response to fucked up situations. On “1491” he samples an obscure Polish quiet storm cut and Dilla horns to proclaim, “I used to kiss my St. Christopher, fuck Christopher Colombus/1491, it’s one and done/This is shit is fucked up”. “Aunt Gerry’s Fried Chicken” feels like a modern update of Kanye’s “Family Business”, capturing fractured memories of his past to keep him motivated for the future. Elsesser is an immense talent to continue watching out for, because like his contemporary Earl Sweatshirt, he produces all his own beats. This is a man who is firmly in control of his own world despite everything attempting to set him back.
15. Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, Carnage
Marrying the Southern-fried scoring of their Hell or High Water soundtrack with Nick Cave’s infamous literary songwriting style, Carnage is able to capture the hate at the heart of America, and the world at large. The avant opener “Hand of God” is like an alarm sounding for the apocalypse, while “White Elephant” directly addresses the George Floyd murder and Kyle Rittenhouse shooting from last summer. While there are sunny moments of reprieve from the darkness as on “Albuquerque”, the majority of the record is spent in misery. By the end, Cave is wearily singing about dragging around a “200 pound bag of blood and bones” around, juxtaposed with a hopeful chorus “This morning is amazing and so are you”. Like a complex novel, it takes a few listens to cut through the wordiness and obscurities before the record opens up and truly becomes masterful.
14. Iceage, Seek Shelter
Iceage rose to the occasion this year in a big way, releasing what we believe is their best record to date. Ditching the slapdash punk songwriting that once defined their sound, the group has finally grounded themselves in the sounds of the Rolling Stones, Oasis and other classic UK rockers. That doesn’t mean that they’re singing about wonderwalls and champagne supernovas, instead they decide to reflect our societal woes back on us. “Shelter Song” feels like a rallying cry for the huddled masses, joining together as not to get kicked to the ground. “Vendetta” is essentially just the Pusher trilogy in 5 minutes, emphasizing themes of revenge against a drug-peddling background, “every city’s flooded with cocaine”. Nothing on this record is inherently “friendly”, yet it has the same misguided jamminess of a 8-ball fueled Stooges album. Even at its most emotionally draining moments, singer Elias Bender Rønnenfelt is never out of energy on Seek Shelter.
13. Tyler The Creator, Call Me If You Get Lost
12. Mach-Hommy, Pray For Haiti
For years, Mach-Hommy has been your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper, a name that was uttered in hushed whispers and gatekept by the most elite hip-hop heads. Like Earl Sweatshirt, he is a phenom in the industry who’s public work has been greatly hyped and anticipated. On the originally $400 Mach’s Hard Lemonade, he was crafting bars and beats like no other artist in music, period, operating in a word totally his own. On the commercially released Pray For Haiti, he concedes some of the quirks that made his previous work special, but also drops the gimmick a bit. That’s because this album is not about the elusive figure making it, but about the country that he comes from. Linking with Griselda Records and more specifically, the devil in Fendi himself Westside Gunn, he is able to highlight the pitfalls of Haiti while still continuing to be it’s champion. On the horn-laced opener “The 26th Letter” he utters a phrase in Haitian before a news clip about drug trafficking and poverty crippling the country takes over. It’s this balancing act between heritage, social commentary and assured threats that makes Pray For Haiti such a rewarding listening each time, with the best he’s rapped over to date.
11. Snail Mail, Valentine
On the most heartbreaking record of 2021, Snail Mail goes through the grieving stages of a past relationship, opening with “Valentine”, a synthy, indie rock spectacular whose chorus begins with “SO WHY’D YOU WANNA ERASE ME?!”. She cannot comprehend that this other person will never change their mind, and the resulting album finds her learning this lesson the hard way. We are no stranger to bad breakups and relationship woes here at AntiArt, check out our guest spot on Simpin’ After Dark if you don’t believe us. Tracks like the nosy “Headlock” finds lead singer Lindsey Jordan seeing her ex with another person, while “Glory” explores the dynamic of the past relationship, with lyrics like “You owe me/You own me” being especially telling. By the end, we see her finally coming to terms with the situation, and this is Ryan typing, I cry every time I hear this one. Jordan puts her heart and soul and tells the public exactly what is on her mind, names and all. Not only is Valentine one of the best rock records of the year, but one of the most well-written in general.
10. PinkPantheress, to hell with it
The fact this is only PinkPantheress’ debut mixtape astounds me in the most marvelous fashion possible. Encapsulating the brilliance and effulgence of this mixtape into words is so tricky. PinkPatheress ingeniously incorporates beautifully nostalgic, ‘00s influenced dnb and garage samples and sounds whilst also modernising the entire ambience of this musical project at the same time. Every track listed on this mixtape emanates undeniable character and originality at the same time. If you’re looking for music which exudes catchiness like there’s no tomorrow and super sweet but also haunting vocals which you’ll be enamoured of instantly, to hell with it is ideal for you. (Addition by Ryan: PinkPantheress is able to do in a minute and 20 seconds what many modern songwriters can do over the course of a whole album. She cuts the feeling, then dips to the next song. Since these tracks all come from the same headspace, where Pantheress isn’t beyond stalking or crashing cars to prove love, the entire tape flows like a messy Instagram Close Friends story, it fucking rules. No song shoutouts, just go listen, it’s like 20 minutes long).
-@thegalleryofxeonism aka Robs
9. black midi, Cavalcade
This record has absolutely no fucking thesis whatsover. Like the cover, it’s impossible to decipher what the band is trying to accomplish, what they’re going on about, and what each song means generally. Usually, that would be signs of a shitty album, but for Cavalcade, cartoonish, senseless buffoonery is what almost landed in the album of the year spot. Every single moment on this record is a red herring, a veering from almost making sense to complete subversion. How can the band start the record off with the tense, jazz metal Primus-style explosion of “John L”, and then just cut to a lounge song about Marlene Dietrich called “Marlene Dietrich”? It’s because they have a chemistry and unified goal of never meaning anything that keeps their music so fresh and interesting to gawk at. “Chondromalacia Patella” is this rip roaring demon that only lets up for some spare moments before tossing the listener back into the mosh pit, while “Diamond Stuff” feels like it would’ve fit more snuggly on the Nick Cave record with it’s despondent vocals and avant string usage. If you’re looking to turn your logic off for a moment and focus on what a music nerd would fuck with, this becomes such a confounding and satisfying listen.
8. Ye, DONDA
This album has been through hell. From its original form as Yandhi, to those rough demos at the first Mercedes-Benz Stadium premiere to the far superior fleshed out DONDA at premiere two to the baffling additions of Marilyn Manson and Globglobgalab at Solider Field in Chicago to the fully censored streaming version I am referring to now, this has been the most haphazard rollout of all time. While I would’ve preferred a combination of all the premieres with cursing, DONDA as it stands today still feels like a runthrough of greatest hits. This is the journey of a divorced man who is trying to get his groove back by connecting with old friends (“Jail” with Jay-Z), flexing on the youngbloods (“Junya”) or being pulled to the roofs of football stadiums (“No Child Left Behind”), and we are along to hear the whole story. As a music journalist, I have never had more fun covering an album in my life, this was a whole different beast. At the end of the day, even without cursing, we get some of his all-time best material with “Come To Life”, “Off The Grid” and “Hurricane”, along with some much-needed callbacks to his storied catalog with “God Breathed” and “New Again”. This is the rare hyped record that has something substantive to sell us, according to Ye “as long as I’m still alive, God’s not finished”, and I almost start to believe him at the very best moments.
7. Genesis Owusu, Smiling With No Teeth
Like all great art, a well-executed concept album can be dissected for generations to come. Not only that, but with a standout debut, a new artist can propel themselves through the stratosphere into a zone where they’re operating at the level of the musicians they admire. Lucky for Genesis Owusu and Ourness Records, Smiling With No Teeth is able to accomplish both. In our interview, it was clear that Genesis is a young guy with heaps wisdom and foresight (hope I did that right Aussies) guiding him to decisions, and his album speaks to that. The poppy, anthemic “The Other Black Dog”, tackles drug abuse, emotional suppression and eventual depression over a deceptively cheery backing, and that’s just the beginning. He hits on racism (“Whipcracker”), materialism (“Gold Chains”), empty platitudes (“Smiling With No Teeth”) and other evergreen worldly problems without getting preachy or missing a musical beat. Each song feels like it could be used in an HBO show out of context, or dissected in a college class to parse the contexts, it is an elastic record that is casual yet intellectual. Genesis Owusu is Australia’s next great hope, a notch to the lineage of artists that include Alex Cameron, Kirin J Callinan, Kevin Parker and Nick Cave. Plus, he met Anthony Wiggle, he’s never going to fail.
6. Jazmine Sullivan, HEAUX TALES
On her fourth studio album, Jazmine Sullivan expertly weaves a web of stories, critiquing what it means to be a “good” or “bad” girl and showcasing the hardships, desires and pitfalls of womanhood. With eight tracks of neo-R&B and pop gold cut in between with skits from different women prefacing each one, Sullivan takes these complex themes and presents them in a way that everyone can comprehend. The minimal yet luscious production allows her abilities as a singer-songwriter to shine, deliverting different perspectives through sticky hooks and witty lyrics. Heaux Tales solidifies Sullivan’s place as a storyteller, painting a multi-layered portrait of sexuality and self-love while also reclaiming female-negative stereotypes in the process.
5. JPEGMAFIA, LP! (Offline Version)
No artist has been able to more accurately document our extremely online era than JPEGMAFIA. His breakout LP Veteran had songs called “My Thoughts At Neogaf Dying” and “Panic Emoji”, like a demented Twitch commentator, Peggy used sampling and raps immediacy to offer interesting takes on our non-tangible digital landmarks. As he’s grown as an artist, he has begun to shed his layers and give us cues into who he is as a man, LP! (OFFLINE) being his most personal and impressive record to date. There is this overarching theme of overcompensation on tracks like the paranoid “TRUST!” and the ex-skewering “REBOUND!” that makes them feel like a particularly heavy therapy session. Meanwhile, the soul sampling “HAZARD DUTY PAY!” is pure aggression and flexing, an extremely cathartic release that few artists could pull off. Speaking of aggression, the flailing and screaming “END CREDITS!” is perhaps the most violent and wacky I’ve heard Peggy get on record. If you want an album that sounds like nothing you’ve ever heard, I highly suggest buying the “offline” version of this record on Bandcamp. This is beyond rap, it’s AntiArt.
4. St. Vincent, Daddy’s Home
After MASSEDUCTION, St. Vincent was in a bit of a creative predicament. While the angular, synthy sound was still working for her, one more record of that style would’ve surely been the end of her masterful win streak. It seems like even she was deeply aware of this going into Daddy’s Home, her best album since 2011’s Strange Mercy. The album starts out with what sounds like her mocking this style, it’s the only track with a synth in it and the lyrics about her being locked out of her place and wearing heels at the park leads me to believe she no longer feels comfortable in this skin. Instead, she adopts a persona deeply inspired by the late trans icon Candy Darling, whom she dedicates a song to at the end of the record. Her father literally getting out of prison is the least of her concerns here, only really devoting the title track to touch on that particular part of her life. Instead, she becomes daddy. And daddy is looking for love, or is she? “Down and Out Downtown” and “Somebody Like Me” definitely flirt with this idea, but she continues to realize how crazy the concept is, like jumping off a building and hoping to fly. Even deeper than that, she is using ‘70s aesthetics (greatly aided by the all-powerful Jack Antonoff) to retcon misogynistic tendencies (“Melting of the Sun”) or womanly duties (“My Baby Wants A Baby”) from that era in favor of a more modern approach to things. As a result, we end with a record that feels more like Once Upon A Time In Hollywood than it’s ‘60s/’70s dress up rival, An Evening With Silk Sonic, which more closely resembles Ford V. Ferrari (aka it’s way too on the nose and it sucks). She takes a real leap away from her old self on this record and soars on angel’s wings. Daddy’s Home indeed.
3. Playboi Carti, Whole Lotta Red*
We just want to say, we’ve been saying that this record is tremendous since last Christmas when the damn thing dropped in the first place. Yes, that was technically at the tail end of 2020 but if they scared-ass publications all decided to wait until this year to underrate it, we’re going to do the same but continue to reiterate that this is the rap album of the decade so far. Taking the quirky Pi’erre Bourne beat formula and putting it in a vampiric new context, Carti and his bevvy of producers including Art Dealer, Outtatown, Star Boy, F1lthy, Wheezy and Bourne himself create this world where it’s 3AM at all time, and red is the only non-gray scale color that exists. Thrashers like “Rockstar Made” and especially “Stop Breathing” see Carti at his most energetic and undeniable, while wild snippet cuts like “No Sl33P” and “On That Time” warp his punk sound into fascinating new shapes. “Control” and “Punk Monk” find him getting personal with emotions and the “game” of rap music, with the latter dead dropping artist names like KEY!, Lil Dicky and Trippie Redd. Not only does Carti get into his own feelings and scream out as a result, he also loosely ties it altogether with this “vampire” concept that works way better than it should. “M3tamorphosis” with its hellish Cudi moans transforms Carti from SoundCloud upstart to full-blown Nosferatu over a terrifying 5-minutes. “I DONE CHANGED MY SWAG! METAMORPHOSIS!!!” feels less like a line in a rap song than a piece of advice. Change everything, Carti did and now he’s perhaps the most sought after artist on the planet. No one is doing what he’s doing, full stop. He is a King Vamp and we’re all just getting our blood drained.
2. Arca, KicK iii
No artist has been tagged, meme’d, reviewed and praised more on our page than La Doña Arca, and it’s for good reason. Her ability to be the center of attention with her music videos and general persona is backed up with music that is even more intriguing, she lets her art talk shit so she doesn’t have to, and her greatest record yet, KicK iii, is a verbal and auditory assault on our basic sensibilities. Her ability to pick apart electronic music, rap, hyperpop and chamber music and rearrange it in her own mutant vision is on full-display here, offering alternatives to all of those named genres that are far superior. Yes, there have been many hip-hop bangers this year, but have you ever heard a song as supremely menacing and brooding as “Senorita”? Or does the Spotify hyperpop playlist contain anything nearly as innovative as “Skullqueen”? The answer is always going to be no because Arca is an artist that refuses to be pinned down, staying fearlessly independent despite how easily she could just be the next pop star. Rather than sell out, she decides to stick to her guns and the result is an album like this, an AntiArt album. It’s an album that creates its own genre, with tracks like “Incendio” and “Ripples” being the blueprint. Just like the overgrown album cover, this is a beastly artist left to her own devices creating an exhibition of all her deadliest musical leanings. It was honestly very difficult not to give this the number one spot considering how totally left-field it is, but there is one more record that just hits the spot slightly more…
1. SPIRIT OF THE BEEHIVE, ENTERTAINMENT, DEATH
Once you get on the psychedelic haunted hayride that is ENTERTAINMENT, DEATH, there is no telling what is in store. Right from the jump, crashing metallic noise shatters any semblance of “conventional” songwriting, and the record becomes that much more based as a result. Without a foundation or centralized genre, the Philadelphia trio are able to hop from spooky drum machine pop to fully screamed vocals on “THERE’S NOTHING YOU CAN’T DO” without it sounding awkward or like it’s trying too hard, it just feels like a much needed shock to the system. As lead singer Zack Schwartz belts out “I'll be your friend”, it sounds like he’s saying “ARE WE AFRAID?!”, as if trying to understand what type of music is being played at the current moment. An OPN inspired transition floats the band into the next track, which sounds more like The Postal Service. Before the listener knows it, it’s Madvillainy-beatwork and bongo-laced tinnitus that powers up to woozy guitar balladry. The album exists in this unexplored space between wakefulness and sleep that produces some of best and worst ideas, and seeing these impulses at odds with each other just makes for one of the most captivating records of all time. “THE SERVER IS IMMERSED” is like a love song in the age of gangstalking, with lines like “Anywhere that you go, they will find you/You might wait but you're already in the future.”, meanwhile, I couldn’t tell you what “I SUCK THE DEVIL’S COCK” is about, it's like a psychedelic “Bohemian Rhapsody” in the way it drifts between perspectives, voices and genres. This is the most replayable album of the year, the best rock album, the best psych album, the best pop record and most importantly, the greatest album of the year because it dares to do whatever it wants , with absolutely no strings attached.