We got some unbelievable albums this year, both from established artists who continue to get better, as well as newcomers who have already garnered huge audiences with impressive debuts. My criteria for a good album is one I can listen to start-to-finish and enjoy all the way through in a sitting as a cohesive project, and these are the ones that I think did it best this year.
[If you would like to listen to my more-unedited thoughts, listen to the radio show I did on Spotify where I cover your picks, my picks, and more!]
The French Dispatch (Original Soundtrack) – Various Artists
Home Video – Lucy Dacus
Born a Loser – Myd
Loving In Stereo – Jungle
shut the f**k up talking to me – Zack Fox
Top 10 Albums of 2021
10. An Evening with Silk Sonic – Silk Sonic
I know a lot of people might be mad that this isn’t higher on the list, but you can take that up with Mr. Mars and Mr. Paak. This would’ve been an absolute lock for top 3 if it released in the summer and had about 15 more minutes of music. A 70s soul/funk inspired project from one of the biggest hit-makers of our generation and one of the most talented musicians of our generation period, should be an easy lock. BUT they basked too long in the success of “Leave the Door Open” (which obviously is wicked good) and forgot they had to put out the rest of the album, and FAST. LTDO came out in early March, propping it up to be a perfectly timed lead-in single for an album with a guaranteed song of the summer contender, BUT NOPE. They didn’t release the album until NOVEMBER. The entire vibe of their group and this album screams hot and hazy summer vibes with open shirts, cocktails, gambling and smoking. But they decide to release it while the weather’s getting cold and everyone’s thinking about their families? NO. I WANNA BE THINKING ABOUT DEBAUCHERY.
Rant aside, this album is great. “Leave the Door Open”, “Smoking Out the Window”, and “Skate” are all certified hits and supporting tracks like “After Last Night” and “Put On a Smile” are great. Bruno and Anderson’s singing works so perfectly, the bass in all of these songs is incredible, you can tell their both having a ton of fun, and I was blown away by Paak’s drumming. I don’t know what the proper music term is whether it was in the mixing or mastering or just the drum kit he used but it sounds so damn good in this project. I think come Summer 2022 I’ll be revising this list to have this in the top 3 but because of it’s 31 minute run time and November release…just didn’t hit as hard as I would’ve liked.
9. Vince Staples – Vince Staples
People have been recommending me Vince for years and every time I gave him a shot I didn’t really get the hype. I think some of the beats were a little harsh and his flow and tone was a little too much for me. So when his self-titled album came out this year my expectations weren’t high…but I was immediately hooked by the first track “Are You With That”. The beat on that song is so unique but simple and Staples’ flow is smooth but cutting at the same time and all tied together by one of the catchiest hooks on a rap song I’ve heard in a minute. From there, “Law of Averages” keeps the vibes going with another unique beat with some crazy drums and Vince flowing so easily over all of it. The rest of the album is so cohesive sounding and you can tell Vince focused completely on creating a sound of his own, maybe why he chose to title this album “Vince Staples” after already releasing many projects before it. It really feels like he came into his own while paying homage to classics of the past. “Taking Trips” has a really cool old school Cali style beat and “Lil Fade” is another standout of mine with kind of a spooky/sexy beat and Vince with some nasty lines that make you wanna bump this in a car. Not to mention, this album gave us one of the best Tiny Desk Concerts I’ve heard in a really long time. Overall, a great rap album and made me a Vince fan after ignoring him for too long.
8. Sling – Clairo
I am a big “album” guy, and by that I mean I love when an album has a complete focused sound and you can listen to it from start to finish while being completely immersed in the sound and story without wanting to skip a single track, and sometimes not even being able to decipher track from track. This new album from Clairo did that perfectly. I don’t have a single track from this album on my Top Songs of 2021 list anywhere but the album as a whole is incredible. Whoever produced this album deserves a mega-Grammy (idk what that is but just like a more powerful Grammy award) because the sound is just GORGEOUS. It’s a soft-jazzy vibe that brings together keyboards, pianos, light-drumming, brass and multiple other instruments that I can’t even name so beautifully and it all works so perfectly with Clairo’s dreamy vocals. The intro “Bambi” really shows you how well they are crafting this album. That song alone is a journey that uses so many instruments and different arrangements to keep you entertained and despite being almost 5 minutes long, leaves you begging for more. “Amoeba” follows it and is catchy as all hell and if you listened to this album you know exactly what part I’m talking about. From there the album really just sounds like one long but beautiful song. Some songs like “Blouse”, a sad and stripped down acoustic song that finishes with some unbelievable strings, and “Joanie” a more upbeat and strong track, stand out, but still serve the purpose of creating an album, not a collection of songs. I loved tossing on this album in the morning while I drank coffee and started my workday, or as I took a break from work to walk around the block for a while, it’s just got a wholly unique sound that is so complimentary to Clairo’s abilities and I really think any fan of just music in general will find this album impressive at the very least.
7. Music – Benny Sings
I think this is quite easily the most slept-on album of the year because I really haven’t heard anyone talking about it or seen it on any year-end lists, but I ran this thing front-to-back over and over again this summer and had to include it on my list for it’s ability to be listened to multiple times without going stale at all.
The opening song is the groovy “Nobody’s Fault” which features one of my favorite musicians, Tom Misch. The vibes of that song are so fun and really show you how great of time the rest of the album is gonna be. Catchy hooks, funky sounds, and an emphasis on the music carrying the weight of the songs. The album perfectly blends together alternative, R&B, jazz, and pop to create a unique sound that you can’t really find anywhere else. “Here It Comes”, “Sunny Afternoon” and “Rolled Up” with Mac Demarco is such a great string of songs to listen to while walking to get coffee on a summer morning. They just capture that hazy summer vibe of thinking about things without really being stressed about any of it. Benny brings the vibe back up after that with one of my favorite songs of the year “Lost Again” which is so bubbly and fun and puts a smile on my face every time I listen to it. Impossible not to bob your head to. The rest of the album keeps it all going with these nostalgic and simple songs that are built upon serious musical talent and as an album I really couldn’t get enough of it this year. If you haven’t checked this out yet I highly recommend because I really can’t see anyone hating this sound, it’s all just chill and fun and I think more people gotta give it a shot.
6. 30 – Adele
I was pretty skeptical of this new Adele album when I heard “Easy On Me” as the single. I’ve always really loved Adele mainly just because her voice is absolutely incredible, but “Easy On Me” almost made me nervous because it seemed the same as all her past projects and I kind of wanted something more. 30 absolutely delivered on being a new endeavor for Adele while still having the foundation of the album be how amazing her voice is.
“Strangers By Nature” is such a perfect intro to this album and maybe the best intro of the year. Adele perfectly captures the themes of the album while also introducing some of the new musical tricks she’s trying out with the strings as well as these sort of warped “chipmunk” vocals in the background that I LOVED throughout the album. You find those vocals most prominently on “Cry Your Heart Out”, a sort of reggae-inspired track that’s super vibey and catchy with a bouncy piano to tie it all together. From there you get the “Oh My God” that’s gonna get some radio play, along with a guitar heavy “Can I Get It”, both different sounding songs but still keeping the main thread of the album. I think Adele structured this album really well between the fun songs, sad ones, angry ones, etc. It shows because both of those songs go into “I Drink Wine”, a goofy title for a song I really liked and that was so true to her sound of a simple piano and ballad-singing. Every track following is a great supporting song that builds up to the unbelievable closer “Love Is A Game”. I talk about that track more in my top songs of 2021 post, but good lord what a beautiful song about the pain that automatically comes with loving someone. It’s such a simple idea but it’s executed so perfectly and passionately by Adele and really ties a bow on the whole project. Again, hands down the best album closer of the year and maybe the best closer I’ve heard in the last decade.
5. ROAD RUNNER: NEW LIGHT, NEW MACHINE – BROCKHAMPTON
People say Brockhampton fell off after the Saturation era and I really don’t support that narrative at all. I think they experimented with some different sounds following after that and released some really great projects and singles, but this album really does feel like the first time they’ve been back to their selves as truly as they were in the Saturation era, while also doing something new.
The intro “Buzzcut” with Danny Brown gets things GOING. The beat is simple and HARD and unique and it works perfectly for the members of the band and even better for a guest verse from Brown who goes absolutely in. In proper B-hampton fashion too it does a beat switch at the end to transition you into the rest of the album and it does not disappoint. The next track “Chain On” has one of the best beats I’ve heard in a long time that is reminiscent of a simple Tribe Called Quest style beat allowing all the members to absolutely go in over it along with an absolute heater of a verse from JPEGMAFIA, another feature that works so perfectly with these guys sound. They do go back to their “boy band” roots a bit with songs like “Count on Me”, “I’ll Take You On” and “Old News”, showing off their great vocals and more poppy instrumentals while also putting their unique flip on it.
One thing they’ve always been great at and really shines in this album is being honestly emotional and displaying it in a song without being inauthentic. “Don’t Shoot Up the Party” shows their anger and frustration while being wrapped up in a trance of a song that will have bobbing your head for sure. While songs like “When I Ball” will have you tearing up about family relationships and a longing for simpler times. I think when listening to these guys first few projects you felt the magic of their big group and friendships and creativity, and it was gone for a little while but 100% came back with this project. I’ve been. fan for a while and to see them release this album still full with new sounds, features, and just really really strong songs made me very happy.
4. Juno – Remi Wolf
Remi is hands down my favorite new artist of 2021. I’d known about her for a little while when her song “Shawty” was put on my radar a few years ago and was catchy as hell, but it wasn’t until I heard “Photo ID” at the beginning of this year that I was like “oh she’s got something special here”. This album though completely solidified her as a star and as someone who has pioneered her own unique sound and will be going big places from here.
Remi’s superpower is creating catchiness. Every track on this album has a part that will be stuck in your head for weeks to come (in a good way). The opening song “Liquor Store” is a perfect showcase of Remi’s talents, with a funky beat, distorted guitars, a piano-introduction to make the chorus more powerful at the end and that catchiness I was talking about before with the whole “you muthaf**ka, you you muthaf**ka” line. It’s just so fun and not fun for the sake of “oh this line will go viral on tik tok” or something, it’s fun because Remi thinks it is. “Anthony Keidis” as the second song really gets the energy going for the rest of the album too, again with lyrics that are guaranteed to put a smile on your face (“I’m doing on and off pilates, like a middle-aged soccer mommy”).
Remi also shows her harder side with songs like “Quiet On Set” a manic song with an evil beat and some bonkers lyrics. The attention to detail on some of the background vocals and adlibs on these songs too tie it all together. She’s not phoning it on 3 verses, 3 hooks, and maybe 1 bridge call it a day, every song keep your attention the entire time by switching it up throughout the 3 or so minutes of each track. There really aren’t any skips on this album and I just had so much damn fun with it and it got me more excited about a musician than I’ve been in a long time. “Grumpy Old Man” is literally the most catchy song I’ve heard in like a decade and I won’t gush too much because I already did on my Top Songs of 2021 post. There’s such a strong finish too with “Sexy Villain” and “Buzz Me In” capturing the fun energy of young relationships and the chaos and fun that comes with it. If you haven’t checked out Remi Wolf yet I highly recommend doing so immediately.
3. Donda – Kanye West
YE IS BACK. If you have read a single post of mine in the past like 7 years of me doing these blogs you knew this was gonna be top 5 regardless. I’m an open Kanye-stan and pretty much think everything he makes or does is a stroke of genius…with the exception of his last album Jesus Is King. That was bad. And that shook my faith in Yeezus a bit. His Christianity seemed inauthentic, which is the one thing Kanye should never be, and led to the only Kanye album I consider more bad than good. So when he teased Donda as still a “clean” record in dedication to his mother I was concerned it would be lame, and I am so glad I was wrong.
Donda is the perfect marriage of the religion of Jesus Is King while still maintaining the musical genius and persona of Kanye West that I know and love. The first real track after the “Donda Chant” is “Jail”, a new electric guitar sound for Ye that features a verse from JAY FREAKING Z. That’s when you had to know this album was gonna be crazy if he got him back on a song. And although the album is almost 2 hours long, he still maintains a cohesive vibe on every song. “Off the Grid” is extremely hard and is a beat that sounds like a Kanye theme song, “Hurricane” is a song every Kanye-head has wanted for years and we finally got it with the Weeknd on the hook? SO FIRE. Another song Kanye teased a while back that I’d been praying to hear the full version of for over a year is “Believe What I Say” and it lived up to the hype as an absolute BANGER.
You really just get to see all sides of Kanye with this album. There’s the emotional gospel track “24” while having another gospel-heavy yet danceable song with Roddy Rich “Pure Souls” that I listened to on repeat right after it came out, while having a gospel outro on an almost Graduation-sounding song with “New Again”. Tie it all together with the transcendent “Come to Life” and “No Child Left Behind” and you’ve got yourself a classic Kanye album that would make any super fan like myself happy.
The only reason this isn’t number 1 is, like I said, I like a concise album that I can listen to front to back without skipping any and Donda unfortunately isn’t like that. There are 4 “Part 2s” at the end of the album that I find completely unnecessary, and songs like Pop Smoke’s “Tell the Vision” and “OK OK” and the over 5 minute long “God Breathed On This” I could’ve done without. This album roll-out was insane with Kanye performing multiple listening parties in stadiums with unfinished tracks and working on mixes and verses on the fly, so I see why the finished product was a bit reflective of that “messiness”. Overall though this album gave us double digit Kanye bangers and I listened to it on shuffle religiously after it’s release so had no choice but to give it Top 3.
2. Jubilee – Japanese Breakfast
This album is so good that it made me go to my first concert alone just to see it performed live AND on top of that I ENJOYED my night being by myself amongst strangers for 2 hours.
You know how you call like popular popcorn movies “movies” but then like really artsy well-done beautiful movies people call “films”. This album is a “film” of an album. It’s so well put together and really just hit everything I could want in a musical project. The opening track “Paprika” sets the tone of a grandiose album. There’s some really poetic lyrics and the vocals are so unique and it’s all brought together by a ton of great instrumentals including some horns that you know I am a HUGE sucker for. The 1-2 punch of the intro and “Be Sweet”, the feel-good breakout song of this album really makes you feel like you found something special when listening to this. The next 3 songs all just have so many components I like. The nostalgia and plucking strings of “Kokomo, IN”, the saxophone riff and upbeat vibe of “Slide Tackle”, and the building instrumental into trance-like finale of “Posing in Bondage” make for one of the most interesting run of consecutive songs this year.
What I really like about this album too is that as emotional and introspective it is, it’s about happiness as the title Jubilee, infers. But it’s not just “let’s have fun and keep it light”, it’s a really deep and interesting look at what happiness and joy is. I think the song “Savage Good Boy” really shed a light on this concept in a cheeky and interesting way as Japanese Breakfast takes the persona of a “finance bro” of sorts and talks about all the material aspirations she has in a satirical way amongst a very cool beat with some awesome backing electric guitars. She perfectly brings the album to a close with the final two songs. “Tactics” was amazing to see live and was a super chill vibe just swaying back and forth and watching her band do their thing with these jam of a track. As the album ends with Posing for Cars you basically get 7 minutes to fully digest the album and think about all of it and the emotions it brought up. It feels like you just looked through a box of old sepia-toned photographs from a happy time and your happy but sad it’s over. This album really moved me emotionally more than any other this year and to find a new artist this talented and an album so perfect had me so excited. If there’s one album you go listen to after reading this list I really hope it’s this one because it’s 100% worth your time. There was really only 1 that slightly satisfied me more than it this year, and that’s…
1. Call Me If You Get Lost – Tyler, the Creator
This. Man. Does. Not. Miss.
I don’t understand how you can keep evolving and growing musically with each album without retreading old ground or getting old for so long. Once Tyler came out with Flower Boy in 2017 I think most people thought that was going to be his pinnacle. It was critically and commercially successful, fans loved it, and it was a real sign of maturity from the dude who made “Yonkers” a few years earlier. And then IGOR came out and blew everyone away, having a radio hit with “EARFQUAKE”, being ranked at the top of many year-end lists, and successfully pulling off a concept album with a new character for himself. Where was he gonna go from there? How could a new project be better? I couldn’t picture it until he put this album out and once again exceeded my expectations.
This is the most Tyler, the Creator album to ever come out if you ask me. Perfectly uses all of his best talents in production, singing, rapping, and just overall vibe curation to create an album with a sound of it’s own that feels bigger than any other project to be released this year by a MILE. From the intro “Sir Boudelaire” you get the vibe that this is going to be a luxurious jazz-ridden odyssey of a record that will romanticize traveling and the adventures that come with globe-trotting. And our host through it all being DJ Drama’s hilarious hypes, in my opinion, was used so perfectly as a through-line for the whole thing. “Corso” and “Lemonhead” give us that braggadocios and hard-beat Tyler while it all slows down again by track 4 with one of my favorites of the year “Wusyaname”, which has a very cool 90s R&B style and maybe the best feature of the year with Youngboy Never Broke Again’s voice who works so perfectly over it. The features are all crazy on this, especially Lil Wayne (who never disappoints on a T album) on “Hot Wind Blows”. That beat is so wild and only Tyler could make it as good as it was, and the DJ Drama line of being fed French vanilla ice cream is all-time. Beyond that the Teezo Touchdown feature on “Run It Up” is used so perfectly as well, and shows Tyler’s ability again to find lesser known artists and put them on a track that allows them to show all of their talents. Tyler’s another person who I saw live in concert this year and I think it’s one of the best shows I’ve ever seen in my life…and “Run It Up” was some one of the craziest songs I’ve seen done live also. When that first chant comes up everyone went crazy.
Tyler has solidified himself as a once-in-a-generation artist with this album though. Doing two 8+ minute songs in “SWEET/I THOUGHT YOU WANTED TO DANCE” and “WILSHIRE” and not losing the attention of the listener is a feat that only the best of the best can pull of and Tyler did it. He’s being open and honest and his rapping really paints a picture in your head that sticks with you after listening to this album. What I have always admired about Tyler, the Creator is how he blazes his own trail. He didn’t like the clothes people were wearing so he designed his own. He didn’t think the comedy people were into were funny so he and his friends made a skit-show about stuff they thought was funny. And when it comes to music there’s really no person you can compare him to, he has his own sound. Between the music videos, artwork, fashion drops from Golf, and the lyrical content and instrumentals of this album I really am just blown away by how well he created an album that has its own persona separate from anything before it. I listened to this a billion times this year and in my opinion it certified Tyler as one of the GOATs and the man is only like 30 years old. Can’t wait to see where he goes after this because if he’s taught us anything, it only goes up.