2021

2021 :: TOP ALBUMS – 30 THROUGH 02

2021’s amazing musical landscape was inversely proportional to the shitstorm we were wading through. It was a musical year marked by innovation, interest and courage. Enjoy and I will again implore you, as George Michael did, to “Listen Without Prejudice!

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30

Wiki

HALF GOD

Parick Morales, AKA Wiki, spins colorful coming-of age tales of the NYC streets. All in the shadow of the ever-blooming gentrification of a changing New York. Mature, full-throated and soulful, this is rap at its finest.

RAP

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29

Dawn Richard

SECOND LINE

Bringing a deep personal sense of Southern humanity to the dance genre, “Second Line” stands as a landmark. Dawn Richard isn’t interested in the limitations of a throbbing party, but more focused on a contemplative exploration of personal history and liberation through music and dance. Depth on the dance floor.

RnB

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28

Yola

STAND FOR MYSELF

With his penchant for bluesy authenticity, it’s no surprise that Dan Auerbach produced this Nashville chanteuse’s 2021 release. The result is a powerful assertion of Yola’s confidence, talent, and experience. Warm as whiskey, smoky as a Delta honky tonk, bittersweet as citrus on a cool summer breeze.

ROCK

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27

Geese

PROJECTOR

Buzzy Brooklyn darlings Geese stun on this ambitious rock debut. Punchy post-punk song compositions lay with lush production in powerful arcs. Jangling guitar cascades jibe with quirky indie straight-legged jerks in fits. Sexy, dangerous, louche, cool.

ROCK

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26

Joeboy

SOMEWHERE BETWEEN BEAUTY AND MAGIC

A love letter, history lesson and personal portrait wrapped in one incredible release from this Chicago In 2021, Nigerian pop-icon-in-the-making Joeboy brought us this perfectly sweet collection of songs about love, longing and ambition. It balances a youthful exuberance with a sure songwriting hand and deft production touch. Not shabby at all for a debut release.

POP

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25

Low

HEY WHAT

27 years into their careers as Low, duo Mimi Parker and Alan Sparhawk dive headlong into a beautiful, angular reverie on these 10 songs of stormy distortion. Perhaps no album in 2021 better in captured the beauty of tense electrical decay so present in today’s society.

ROCK

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24

Sons of Kemet

BLACK TO THE FUTURE

Jazz supergroup Sons of Kemet kick brass in this politically-minded musical journey through subjects like race, equality, and black consciousness, to name a few. Created in collaboration with progressive US-and-UK-based rap artists, this is an ambitious record that unfolds new depth with each listen.

JAZZ

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23

Jack Ingram + Miranda Lambert ≠ Jon Randall

THE MARFA TAPES

This is a love letter to the power of a song well written. Ingram, Lambert, and Randall have given us an honest-to-God Americana record here, lo-fi, off-the-grid and as pretty and broad as the skies of West Texas. The name really says it all: This ain’t Nashville and it’s all the better for it.

COUNTRY

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22

Jaubi

NAFS AT PEACE

Another staggering debut on the list. This time, from ranging Pakistani jazz icon-smashers Jaubi. Stiring Hindustani classical, jazz improv, and J Dilla-like hooks into the same stock pot, Jaubi puts the “spirit” in spiritual jazz. Revelatory.

JAZZ

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21

Iceage

SEEK SHELTER

Iceage goes to Madchester. Or is it Detroit? New York, maybe? All of those influences are bricks in the wall of sound that the Danes have built on “Seek Shelter.” The cocksure swagger here is undeniable. If you ever loved Ocean Color Scene, The Stooges, Springsteen, or MC5, hop on board and turn it UP.

ROCK

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20

Japanese Breakfast

JUBILEE

From brilliant melody creation, to narrative structure, to hooky beats, Michelle Zauner is firing on all cylinders on “Jubilee.” Tonally, it ranges from the minute to the palatial, from devastation and loss to a joyful exuberance. This is the mature work of a true talent in full flight.

ROCK

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19

Spirit of the Beehive

ENTERTAINMENT, DEATH

Moving, complex jazz songs, exquisitely produced. The maturity and balance of these compositions This one isn’t for the easy listeners… And God bless, I love it more for that fact. Evolutionary, oblique, mutant, shattered, but euphoric. A mad scientist’s conceit. A genius’ conceptual nod-and-wink. Eleven tracks of uncompromising vision and unquestionable talent. 

ROCK

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18

Alfa Mist

BRING BACKS

This is the Jazz statement we’ve been looking for from the UK producer, MC and pianist, at once dynamic and pensive. These songs shimmer with monster musicianship, shudder with head-bobbing beats, and strut with the streetwise sophistication of a master of his domain. 

JAZZ

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17

The Black Keys

DELTA KREAM

The Black Keys pay glorious tribute to the North Mississippi blues that have formed the basis for their sound in 12 classics re-imagined. This is a fastball for them, right in the pocket. The Delta swamp is here, but the smoke, worn pine boards, and tin roofs are painted in watercolor washes… More refined, smooth, comfortable and artful.

BLUES

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16

Emma-Jean Thackray

YELLOW

Yet another amazing debut on the list. UK bandleader Emma-Jean Thackray gives us a psychedelic, spiritual album that is thoroughly comfy in the vastness of space, both inner and outer.  The second line is here, but it’s marching through the canals of Mars and out into the cosmos. 

JAZZ

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15

Olivia Rodrigo

SOUR

Eleven brilliant torch songs for a world-weary 2021, intimate and expansive in turns. That duality best captures the terribly small, human moments yet fist-in-the-air grandiosity that encompasses young love. Sometimes you just gotta dance away the breakup.

POP

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14

Jazmine Sullivan

HEAUX TALES

“Heaux Tales” is a patchwork quilt of the female experience brought to us in sublime technicolor by a songstress in full swing. These are straight-up soulful bangers and it’s an absolute star turn by Sullivan. But, this is so much more than a showcase for her prodigious talents. It is a multifarious, conceptual voyage.

RnB

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13

The Weather Station

IGNORANCE

Tamara Lindeman’s work has never seemed so urgent, never so broad, never so perfectly realized as it does on “Ignorance.” That’s saying something for a career filled with stunning songwriting. The lush, robust production here only brings out the power of these compositions. A triumph.

FOLK

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12

Guided By Voices

EARTH MAN BLUES

GBV has made a career of standing outside. If you figure they formed in the early 80s, that’s no mean feat. “Earth Man Blues” is sterling proof that the rockers can continue to buck the odds, refuse to surrender, and remain “other.” This is alt rock and roll in its most defiant, freewheeling sense.

ROCK

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11

Damon Locks + Black Monument Ensemble

NOW

Effortless and elastic. Passionate and powerful. Doleful and displeased. Resolute and reformative. These Intense, acute, avant-garde, and complex, “Now” is a superlative effort from the Chicago-based talent Damon Locks. This is an important work of social consciousness. All of that could come with difficulty for a lesser composer and band, but the ensemble here gives this work an incisive, addictive accessibility. 

JAZZ

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10

St. Vincent

DADDY’S HOME

This listens like the glam era sent you a flirty, drunken message at 3AM on a too-hot New York night. The Thin White Duke or Donald and Walter themselves would be proud of the metamorphic, artistic 70s bray and sashay here. So good. 

ROCK

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09

Julien Baker

LITTLE OBLIVIONS

An intensely personal record. “Little Oblivions” uses a bigger, broader palette of sound to bring a greater sense of gravity to the ripping reflection of Julien Baker’s marvelous songwriting. The crazy thing is that Baker is performing all of the instruments on that bigger band sound herself. Phenomenal. 

ROCK

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08

Nick Cave + Warren Ellis

CARNAGE

Grief unbound. Gothic terror triumphant. Brutality revealed. All wrapped in a veil of romantic, ominous beauty. All of the promise of the goth movement is realized on a record like this, at once progressive and gorgeous and dark and bloodthirsty. This is the work of masters. Full stop.

ROCK

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07

Duran Duran

FUTURE PAST

The name says it all. A punchy-as-fuck culmination of over 40 years of experience, experimentation, and ecstatic eyes on the future. The wry smile of the early songs is still here, but infused with a fresh, contemporary energy. In the words of LL… “Don’t call it a comeback.”

ROCK

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06

Pharoah SandersFloating Points + London Symphony Orchestra

PROMISES

Luaka Bop has always brought the innovative fire. They’re just right to give the world this exploratory masterpiece, bringing together DJ / Musician Floating Points, über-saxman Pharaoh Sanders and the LSO. Simply put, that’s an EVENT. Five years in the making, this is a high-water mark in ALL of the genres it explores — Jazz, Electronic and Classical. Simply astounding in scope and realization.

JAZZ

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05

Little Simz

SOMETIMES I MIGHT BE INTROVERT

Definitely the best rap outing of the year and one of the most thrilling releases of 2021 period. The North London MC, Little Simz, has created something transcendent here, both intimate and grand in turns. Bombastic, muscular, playful, ambitious, masterful.

RAP

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04

Mdou Moctar

AFRIQUE VICTIME

Nigerien desert blues master Mdou Moctar returns in 2021 with easily the best guitar rock album released in a decade. The album serves notice that Moctar will leave permanent mark on the genre. It transports the listener to his homeland and acts as a reminder that groundbreaking guitar rock can come from anywhere. Expansive and truly brilliant.

ROCK

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03

Black Country, New Road

FOR THE FIRST TIME

A fragmented swath of genius for a fractured world. Black Country, New Road encapsulate the struggle of our times through 6 progressive songs of angular beauty, proving that there can be poignance in the chaos that surrounds us. Is this rock, is it jazz, some sort of neo-klezmer? something else. Who knows. But it’s damn powerful.

ROCK

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02

Turnstile

GLOW ON

It’s official, the best hardcore album of the year is also perhaps the most danceable. If that raises an eyebrow, know that Baltimore rockers Turnstile aren’t interested in classification, lines, or categories. For everything I could say about the polyphony or intelligence of the work, this album is most importantly PURE FUN!!!

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