10. HELADO NEGRO- FAR IN
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.
Best Tracks- Mystery; Wild WRLD