Stuffed to the brim double album offers glimpses of what makes Atlanta metal institution Mastodon one of the best at what they do over the past two decades.
Best tracks- Teardrinker; Gigantum
49. MY MORNING JACKET- MY MORNING JACKET
First album in six years is a welcome return for Louisville, KY band who blur lines between jam band and indie rock.
Best tracks- Last Expected; Never In The Real World
48. DEAFHEAVEN- INFINITE GRAVITY
Fifth album by west coast black metal band is an extreme departure from their previous albums. The band shifts towards a shoegaze sound akin to the band Explosions In The Sky, with clean, intelligible vocals minus the demonic screaming. Gorgeous is less distinguishable.
Best tracks- Great Mass Of Color; Shellstar
47. CHLOE MORIONDO- BLOOD BUNNY
Thoughtful but pissed off indie-pop; a more underground version of Olivia Rodrigo.
Best tracks- Bodybag; Rly Don’t Care
46. YOUNG THUG- PUNK
Only the second “official” full-length album by massively influential Atlanta rapper is probably Thug’s most accessible and mellowest release to date despite its title.
Best tracks- Livin It Up; Icy Hot
45. LINDSEY BUCKINGHAM- LINDSEY BUCKINGHAM
Seventh solo album released in the wake of his very public firing by Fleetwood Mac, LB is often a delight, especially when Buckingham is able to meld experimentation with his noted knack for melody.
Best tracks- On The Wrong Side; I Don’t Mind
44. A NATION OF LANGUAGE- A WAY FORWARD
Often excellent Brooklyn based indie synth pop band who recall mid eighties New Wave at its finest.
Best tracks- Across That Fine Line; This Fractured Mind
43. L’RAIN- FATIGUE
Beautifully thought provoking work by NYC based artist who combines free jazz, R&B, electronic music and indie rock with the avant-garde. Futuristic and forward leaning.
Best tracks- Two Face; Find It
42. VIAGRA BOYS- WELFARE JAZZ
Second album b y Swedish band who combine post-punk with black humor, dry wit and satire. Unfortunately Benjamin Valle, a band co-founder and guitarist recently passed away in October of ’21 making the future of the band in up in the air. Features stand out cuts like “Ain’t Nice” and “Creatures” as well as a cool cover of “In Spite Of Ourselves”.
Best Tracks- Ain’t Nice; Creatures
41. TIRZAH- COLOURGUARD
Second album by British experimental indie-pop artist. A Meditative and gorgeous exploration of early motherhood and the artist’s pregnancy, “Colourguard” highlights familial love and intimacy.
Sixth studio album by singer/songwriter and phenom electric guitarist Annie Clark is a concept album inspired by her father’s recent release from prison for white collar crimes. Musically it’s a throwback to 60’s and 70’s psychedelia and lounge music.
Best tracks- The Melting Of The Sun; My Baby Wants A Baby
39. BLACK COUNTRY, NEW ROAD- FOR THE FIRST TIME
Debut album by one of a handful of young, London band who successfully combine post-punk with prog-rock and experimental music. Black Country adds jazz with a prominently featured saxophone and violins added to the mix.
Best tracks- Track X; Sunglasses
38. STRAND OF OAKS- IN HEAVEN
Seventh album “In Heaven” is a return to form and the group’s best album since 2014’s “Heal”. Strand Of Oaks but the rock in folk rock adding elements of grunge. Features stand out lead single “Galacticana”
Best tracks- Galacticana; Sunbathers
37.DAWN RICHARD- SECOND LINE
Sixth studio album in a fascinating career from model, actress, musician and animator. Richard got her start as a member of Danity Kane in P. Diddy’s “Making The Band II”. She is now an indie artist signed to North Carolina label Merge Records putting out underground R&B music. “Second Line” is an homage to the music and culture of her hometown New Orleans.
Best tracks- Bussifame; Boomerang
36. BRANDI CARLILE- IN THESE SILENT DAYS
Seventh album by former Grammy winner. It took me way too long to hear and get into Carlile’s music but as soon as I took the plunge I took to it immediately. Her heavy take on country and beautiful, folkie ballads remind me of the classic rock that is often missing in today’s music. The band behind her sounds great as well.
Best tracks- Broken Horses; Sinners, Saints & Fools
35. THE BUG- FIRE
‘The Bug’ is the alias of British musician and producer Kevin Martin. He has been completely off of my radar since 2008’s amazing “London Zoo”. “Fire: captures the zeitgeist, paranoia and anger of our moment with its furious combo of dancehall, electronic music & UK Grime; featuring excellent British guest rappers throughout.
Best tracks- Vexed; Fuck Off
34. PARQUET COURTS- SYMPATHY FOR LIFE
With their seventh album “Sympathy For Life” NYC based indie rock band Parquet Courts have quietly proven themselves to be one of the most consistently reliable rock bands of the last decade. They tweak their sound just enough each time around, this time veering towards a funkier and more danceable sound than before.
Best tracks- Walking At A Downtown Pace; Homosapien
33. BLACK MIDI- CAVALCADE
Second album by London experimental rock band solidifies their standing as one of the most exciting young bands on the scene. “Cavalcade” may not hit with the surprise of their 2019 debut “Schlagenheim” but it’s beefed up sound sands off their edges a bit showing musical growth and a pathway forward.
Best tracks- Dethroned, John L
32. SHAME- DRUNK TANK PINK
Second album by South London, post-punk band is an improvement on their promising debut in every way- better songs, better sound and even more pissed off anger and energy than before.
Best tracks- 6/1; March Day
31. JAPANESE BREAKFAST- JUBILEE
Third album by American indie dream pop project, featuring song of the year candidate “Be Sweet”.
A fun collaboration between pop superstar Bruno Mars and multi-instrumentalist and genre jumping Anderson .Paak. It’s a throwback to seventies soul replete with all of the touchstones of the era, even including Bootsy Collins spoken word intros. It’s sure to dominate radio for years and can be enjoyed by everyone from your kids to your grandma.
Best tracks- Skate; Put A Smile On Me
29. POM POM SQUAD- DEATH OF A CHEERLEADER
Great debut album from Brooklyn four piece indie rock band who subvert female stereotypes, pulling inspiration from Riot Grrrrl punk, Motown and 60’s girl groups.
Best tracks- Drunk Voicemail, Head Cheerleader
28. GOJIRA- FORTITUDE
Seventh album by French Prog-Metal band Gojira, is their first since 2016’s amazing “Magma”. A thinking man’s metal band, Gojira tackle environmental and societal issues while pummeling your ear drums.
Key Tracks- Amazonia; New Found
27. SQUID- BRIGHT GREEN FIELD
Debut album by buzz-worthy Brit band Squid, may be my favorite of their scene this year. Each of these London bands bring their own unique take on post-punk and are able to carve out their own niche. Squid add both eighties new wave and seventies krautrock to give them both a slightly more accessible yet other times droopier sound than their counterparts. Four of the albums eleven tracks are over six minutes.
Best tracks- Narrator; G.S.K.
26. ILLUMINATI HOTTIES- LET ME DO ONE MORE
Official debut album by L.A. based indie band fronted by studio engineer Sarah Tudzin. Released after a series of buzz worthy mixtapes. “LMDOM” is a blast from start to finish, especially singles like “Pool Hopping” and “MMMOOOAAAAYAYA”
Best tracks- Pool Hopping; MMMOOOAAAAYAYA
25. INDIGO DE SOUZA- ANY SHAPE YOU WANT IT
Second album by Asheville, NC based indie singer-songwriter is a fun, catchy throwback to nineties grunge-pop like the Breeders, Veruca Salt & Belly, which features absolute standout single “Hold U”.
Best tracks- Hold U; Kill Me
24. KACEY MUSGRAVES- STAR-CROSSED
Unfairly compared to its career peak predecessor, 2018’s “Golden Hour”, “Star-Crossed” may have been slightly disappointing at first but gets better with each listen. Kacey, who started out in Country, has become one of our modern era’s best singer-songwriters and now writes mostly in the pop realm and is only somewhat Country-adjacent. Here she chronicles her recent marriage from its exciting beginnings to disappointing divorce.
Best tracks- Bread Winner; Good Wife
23. FAYE WEBSTER- I KNOW I’M FUNY HAHA
Fourth album by Atlanta indie-folk singer, Webster only reached my radar with 2019’s “Atlanta Millionaire’s Club”. She is s funny, unique and provocative writer backed by a killer band well versed in country stylings. The first half of the album is note perfect with only a slight dip in quality in the second half.
Best Tracks- Better Distractions; Sometimes
22. CHVRCHES- SCREEN VIOLENCE
Fourth album by Scottish synth-pop trio is at least their best outing since their 2013 debut, even as they’ve grown past their biggest era of fame and sales they continue to make very high quality music.
Best tracks- How Not To Drown; Good Girls
21. SNAIL MAIL- VALENTINE
Follow up album to critically acclaimed 2018 debut “Lush” by DC area based singer songwriter who has only in her teen years during the release of “Lush”. “Valentine” may be only a slight step down for her but highlights like the title track and “Glory” are as good as her best songs. And she continues to rip on guitar giving more nods to nineties indie rock.
Early twenty-something British singer-songwriter and producer who blew up last year on Tik Tok. builds short songs out of recognizable hooks from nineties and early 2000’s dance music. Simultaneously innovative and nostalgic.
Best Tracks- I Might Apologise; Break It Off
19. LANA DEL REY- BLUE BANNISTERS
Second full-length release of 2021, “Blue Bannisters” affirms Del Rey’s status as one of the most prolific and important singer-songwriters of our new decade. Less conceptual and more free-wheeling and loose than her other recent albums.
Best tracks- Dealer; Textbook
18. JULIEN BAKER- LITTLE OBLIVIONS
Third album by another stand-out young singer-songwriter in her mid-twenties. “Little Oblivions” shows Baker beefing up her sound to that of a full band even though she plays nearly every instrument. It may be a slight step down from “Turn Off The Lights”, but it’s still a consistently rewarding listen.
Best tracks- Ringside; Song In E
17. THE WEATER STATION- IGNORANCE
Fantastically gorgeous album of jazzy, synth-driven indie music focused on environmental catastrophe and the absolute beauty of our natural world. Includes late-period capitalism take-down “Robber”, one of the best songs of 2020.
Best tracks- Robber; Atlantic
16. JAZMINE SULLIVAN- HEAUX TALES
Thirty-minute concept album about love and sex, sung by R&B vocal phenom Sullivan, with spoken interludes from various women who embody the subjects of each beaux tale. Includes stand-our tracks “The Other”, “Lost One” and “Pick Up Your Feelings”
Best tracks- Pick Up Your Feelings; The Other One
15. THE WAR ON DRUGS- I DON’T LIVE HERE ANYMORE
Fifth album by Philly rock band who have quietly become one of the most consistently quality rock bands of the past decade. TWOD continue to reappropriate the sounds of eighties boomer synth-rock (think “Tunnel Of Love” and Dire Straits among others), with more focus than before on tightly constructed songs and melodies.
Best tracks- I Don’t Live Here Anymore; Living Proof
14. ADELE- 30
Fourth album release by the biggest artist in music today. “30” finds Adele transforming her life in the wake of her recent divorce. It’s her most sonically ambitious and musically varied album to date and should generate tons of radio airplay for years. Adele remains as heartbreaking but relatable as ever.
Best tracks- To Be Loved; Oh My God
13. LOW- HEY WHAT
Previous album “Double Negative” was a huge musical about face by this long running slow core indie dup institution. “Hey What” continues in the same vein and while it lacks the thrill and shock of the new of its predecessor , Low are able to find fresh angles and sounds and once again seem to capture the sociopolitical zeitgeist of the moment.
Best tracks- The Price You Pay (Must Be Wearing Off); Days Like These
12. LITTLE SIMZ- SOMETIMES I MIGHT BE AN INTROVERT
Fourth album by UK female rapper who has long been bubbling just under most people’s radar for a number of years. “Introvert” looks like it has blown her up bigger than before, at least critically where she topped a pile of year end lists, while receiving accolades from her heroes like Lauryn Hill and Kendrick Lamar. Little Simz struggles to balance her public persona with her private self raising relatable questions on the nature and problems of fame.
Best tracks- Woman; I Love You, I Hate You
11. Billie Eilish- HAPPIER THAN EVER
Second major label album and follow up to Grammy sweeping “hen We Fall Asleep Where Do We Go”. “Happier” lacks a world conquering hit like “Bad Guy” but may be an even better overall than it’s also great predecessor. The wildly talented Billie and brother collaborator Finneas are one of the most unique and best musical voices of the modern era. Features 2020 hits “Therefore I Am” and “My Future”.
After a decade recording, Helado Negro finally broke through, at least in the indie world, with 2019’s “This Is How You Smile”. Follow up “Far In”, to me, is a big step forward for the band from “Smile”. A close listen on headphones reveals intricate layers of sound presented in exquisite musical detail, though the album works equally well as pleasant background music during a beautiful summer afternoon.
Key Tracks- Aureole, Hometown Dream
9. ICEAGE- SEEK SHELTER
One of the most underrated modern rock bands, the Danish band Iceage continues to change up its sound while remaining consistently great. I wonder if they would have been bigger in an era where rock was more prominent?
Key tracks- Dear Saint Ceceilia; High And Hurt
8. TYLER, THE CREATOR- CALL ME IF U GET LOST
Six albums into a whirlwind career, it is clear to me that Tyler, the Creator has one of the most surprisingly great arcs in rap history. After taking some creatively ambitious detours away from rap on his last three albums to excellent results, Tyler returns to pure rap on this fun & joyous mixtape released out of nowhere last summer. Features great guest turns by Lil Wayne, Pharrell, Brent Faiyaz, Young Boy Neverbrokeagain & more.
Key Tracks- Hot Wind Blows; Juggernaut
7. WIKI- HALF GOD
NYC rapper’s third album is my favorite rap album of the year. Wiki, once a part of the fairly prominent group Ratking, was completely off of my radar until “Half God”, which is a harder and more mature than any of his past music. Excellently produced by rapper Navy Blue and featuring the great Earl Sweatshirt on track “All I Need”.
Best tracks- Drug Supplier; Roof
6. LANA DEL REY- CHEMTRAILS OVER THE COUNTRY CLUB
Lana continues to grab the zeitgeist and her winning streak with her first of two 2021 albums. “Chemtrails” revels in escapism and nostalgia as it embodies an empire in steep decline. A party at the end of the world. Features great Joni Mitchell cover “For Free”.
Best Tracks- Tulsa Jesus Freak; White Dress
5. LUCY DACUS- HOME VIDEO
Third and best studio album by Ruichmond, VA singer-songwriter is an examination of Dacus’s stifling childhood growing up closeted and religious in the south. Dacus writes with fine detail in tracks like “VBS”, where she befriends a metal head at bible camp. There are many moments in “Home Video” which make the hair raise on my arms. Dacus and the crack band behind her know how to do a slow build from quiet acoustic to a loud, anthemic chorus that rocks.
Key Tracks- Hot & Heavy; VBS
4. DRY CLEANING- NEW LONG LEG
London Neo-post punk four-piece band fronted by vocalist Florence Shaw who’s vocals are mostly just a droll, spoken word narration while backed by tense, angular guitar and bass licks heavily indebted to Gang of Four and Joy Division. More unique and awesome than it sounds.
Key tracks- Scratchguard Lanyard; Unsmart Lady
3. LIL NAS X- MONTERO
Wildly successful debut album by one of the most surprising stars in music today. Lil Nas X appeared out of nowhere in the beginning of 2019 with country, rap hybrid “Old Town Road”, which became one of the biggest crossover smashes this side of “Happy”, or “Gangnam Style”, or “Uptown Funk”. It took me about a 100 listens before I appreciated it but even then, Nas X seemed to have one hit wonder written all over him. In the lead up to this album he then released a video for the title track featuring him getting a lap dance in hell by two male demons. Drawing expected fire from the Christian Right, Nas X has managed simultaneously to be both extremely provocative and likable- not an easy feat to pull. “Montero” the album, is laden with smash songs, both within and outside of rap.
Best Tracks- Montero (Call Me By Your Name); Sun Goes Down
2. OLIVIA RODRIGO- SOUR
A pop album by a former Disney star is my number two album of the year? Like Lil Nas X at number three color me surprised! Like “Old Town Road” it took me awhile to get why Rodrigo’s smash hit “Driver’s License” released last January, was loved by so many. It didn’t really resonate with me until after I heard and loved her subsequent singles “Good 4 U”, and “Deja Vu”. I relented, purchased the album and now I pretty much love the whole thing. “Sour” keeps the focus mostly on teenage heartbreak, the old music cliche’, but Rodrigo’s sharp songwriting, powerful vocals and punk spirit bring a fresh new spin on an old trope.
Best Tracks- Good 4 U; Deja Vu
TURNSTILE- GLOW ON
Another huge surprise for me sits at the top of the 2021 heap. I had previously heard Baltimore hardcore band, Turnstile but thought them mostly a better than average punk band. “Glow On” is a monster leap forward for the group and is one of the more innovative hardcore albums I’ve ever heard. Turnstile incorporate so many seemingly disparate elements- pop, rap, grunge, r&b, post-punk etc…while keeping hardcore’s furious, energetic spirit. Brings to mind albums like Nirvana’s “Nevermind”, Green Day’s “Dookie” & At The Drive-In’s “Relationship of Command” in pointing a new way forward for punk and hardcore music.
“Microphones in 2020” is one forty-five minute song from this resurrected alias of Phil Elverum, which delves deeply into his past, examining the process of making his art along with his often heartbreaking existence and many transformations.
Key track Microphones In 2020
49. THUNDERCAT- IT IS WHAT IT IS
Loose, fast-moving and freewheeling album from standout L.A. bassist, with its heart rooted in deep funk and jazz.
Key Tracks I Love Louis Cole; Dragonball Durag
48. CHICANO BATMAN- INVISIBLE PEOPLE
Hooky, upbeat album from Latino, SoCal, psychedelic funk band. They celebrate diversity and know that love conquers all.
Key Tracks Invisible People; Color My Life
47. LUCINDA WILLIAMS- GOOD SOULS BETTER ANGELS
Angriest and most hard rocking album of Williams storied career. “Good Souls” takes Trump and company directly as she takes her musical cues from punk and heavy blues.
Key Tracks Down Past The Bottom; Wakin Up
46. BLACK THOUGHT- STREAMS OF THOUGHT VOL. 3: CANE & ABLE EP
Third volume in solo series from the frontman of Philly’s legendary The Roots. Though the EP is often hit or miss, the highlights are worth the trouble as Thought collaborates with indie-pop group Portugal. The Man and The Artful Dodger.
Key Tracks Good Morning; Fuel
45. RICO NASTY- NIGHTMARE VACATION
After a slew of EP’s and mixtapes, “Nightmare Vacation” is the official debut album from Baltimore rapper/singer Rico Nasty. Employing 16 different producers over 16 tracks, Nasty runs the gamut of her different sounds, including aggressive rap, pop and Rihanna-influenced R&B.
Key Tracks Smack A Bitch (Remix); iPhone
44. MEDHANE- COLD WATER
Gritty debut from Brooklyn independent rapper with beats rooted in soul & jazz. Quiet but serious and deadly focused.
Key Tracks I’m Deadass; TRS
43. BOB MOULD- BLUE HEARTS
Long time indie hero continues his winning streak with hard hitting, straight ahead indie-punk, angrily focused on the sad and sorry state of America.
Key Tracks Siberian Butterfly; Everything To You
42. BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN & THE E STREET BAND- LETTER TO YOU
Springsteen’s 20th studio album is his best and most upbeat in years, recorded live in the studio with the E street band.
Key Tracks Janey Needs A Shooter; Ghosts
41. HAYLEY WILLIAMS- PETALS FOR ARMOR
Lead singer of emo-punk band Paramore releases her solo debut of experimental pop with danceable undertones.