What a wild year, especially for music. In a year packed with massive releases, career highs and hidden gems, it was a real process trying to find (and rank) what I thought were the 50 best albums of 2021. So, after a prolonged absence, I (Alex Driscoll) give you my 50 favourite albums of the year!
50. SOUR by Olivia Rodrigo- 7.4/10: Likely 2021’s defining album, the immense amount of industry backing behind the young star has paid off, delivering a fun (if generic) set of 2000s inspired pop songs that can be devastatingly sincere.
49. Oh No by Xiu Xiu- 7.5/10: The best album experimentalist Xiu Xiu has released in a while, frontman Jamie Stewart shares mostly strong chemistry with this duet album’s guest, held up significantly by the wild production typical of Xiu Xiu.
48. Delta Estacio Blues by Jucara Marcal- 7.5/10: A strange and visceral experimental album from Brazil, Delta is disorienting and hard to get through, but it is undeniably some of the most original music of 2021.
47. Valentine by Snail Mail- 7.6/10: A pretty stock standard indie-pop affair, Lindsey Jordan’s second album is held together by her skill as a personal and impactful songwriter, as well as some decent 90s throwback production.
46. Seek Shelter by Iceage- 7.6/10: Though the Norwegian band struggle to balance some of their early hardcore tendencies on their softest album yet, Seek Shelter manages to be a worthy entry into a great discography thanks to the wonderful rock production and presence of singer Rønnenfelt
45. 時間 by Betcover!!- 7.7/10: Though this Japanese jazz-rock album can be a little short on ideas at times, its existential mood matched with a suave aesthetic make it a ridiculously fun album.
44. Nurture by Porter Robinson- 7.7/10: The long-awaited second album from the electronic musician sees Robinson take a synth-pop led direction, leaving behind his EDM roots for something not quite impactful but incredibly pleasant in its own way.
43. TYRON by slowthai- 7.8/10: Though it doesn’t match the heights of Nothing Great About Britain, slowthai’s conceptual second LP is an excellent balance between bangers and personal ballads, proving he is one of the best rappers in the UK.
42. breaking up. by Rural Internet- 7.9/10: Messy, to say the least, but this international industrial hip-hop trio’s album is an underground gem full of diverse and downright inflammatory bangers.
41. Maddison by Sloppy Jane- 7.9/10: Confronting and complex, this art-pop collective’s second LP is shaping up to be their break-through, delivering some of the most unsettling yet pretty pop music of the year.
40. Pray for Haiti by Mach-Hommy- 8.0/10: Cut from the same cloth as many of his Griselda compatriots, this New York-based Haitian-American rapper has delivered a ruthless beast of an album, which, whilst not ground-breaking, certainly shows why he is equal to his more popular peers.
39. Illusory Walls by The World is a Beautiful Place and I No Longer Want to Die- 8.0/10: A stock-standard marriage between mid-west emo and post-rock, but is an uplifting and gorgeous sounding record, nevertheless, helped along by an intergalactic theme and strong vocals.
38. G_d’s Pee AT STATE’S END by Godspeed You! Black Emperor- 8.1/10: Surprisingly, one of the most solid albums from the legendary Canadian post-rockers, STATE’S END is a soaring and orchestral instrumental record by a band who know exactly what they are doing.
37. Deep States by Tropical Fuck Storm- 8.1/10: Chaotic is an understatement for the Aussie supergroup’s latest LP, with the foursome giving us their most unhinged and noisy set of art-punk tracks yet, complete with Liddiard’s signature attitude and half-drunk vocals.
36. Welfare Jazz by Viagra Boys- 8.2/10: Another unhinged punk record, this Swedish band’s second album, whilst not as focused as their superb debut, is packed with surprisingly ambitious instrumentals and intelligent parodies of toxic masculinity.
35. Cull Ficle by Asian Glow- 8.2/10: One of the leading voices in Bandcamp’s DIY Korean scene, Asian Glow delivers a really moving and warm lo-fi/emo record, making surprisingly significant waves in the online world.
34. IRA by Iosonouncane– 8.2/10: This French-language album from Italian musician Iosonouncane is a foreboding marriage of post-industrial and psychedelia, making for a challenging, emotional, but hugely rewarding listen.
33. Blue Weekend by Wolf Alice- 8.3/10: The Londoner’s third album is probably their best yet, filled to the brim with some fun and diverse 90s throwback alternative rock that provides one of the most profound ‘mainstream-indie’ listens in a while.
32. Happier Than Ever by Billie Eilish- 8.3/10: Say what you will about the American superstar, but Happier Than Ever is one of the most ambitious pop records in a while, not afraid to play with difficult themes and interesting production.
31. Projector by Geese- 8.3/10: A loose and simple post-punk record, it might not set the world on fire with its originality, but the New York-based band’s debut is a satisfying collection of well-made songs in a genre I love.
30. VOLCANIC BIRD ENEMY AND THE VOICED CONCERN by Lil Ugly Mane- 8.4/10: One of the most surprising records of the year, Travis Miller totally outdoes himself, stepping away from this project’s over-the-top experimental hip-hop for some strange and mostly consistent trip-hop/psychedelic focused songs.
29. To See the Next Part of the Dream by Paranoul- 8.4/10: The album that is spearheading the South Korean online DIY scene, this LP is a crushingly personal and soaring marriage of emo and shoegaze, launching the public-shy and unknown songwriter into the international music community.
28. Blue Banisters by Lana Del Rey- 8.4/10: Just as I was starting to think Norman Fucking Rockwell was a fluke, the widely consistent, inconsistent Del Rey comes through with one of her best albums yet, focusing on sparse, folk-inspired soundscapes and complete with some of her best vocals yet.
27. HARAM by Armand Hammer and The Alchemist- 8.5/10: This three-way collaboration between Billy Woods, Euclid (as Armand Hammer) and legendary producer The Alchemist is a grimy and consistent set of abstract hip-hop capers filled with excellent bars and smooth production from some true industry veterans.
26. KicK iii by Arca- 8.5/10: One of four albums released by the Venezuelan producer (in one day no-less) is a noisy, chaos-filled ride through the deconstructed-bass genre, forming one of the best electronic albums of the year.
25. Hey What by Low- 8.5/10: Continuing in the same noise-driven direction of their previous masterpiece Double Negative, Hey What is missing some of the intimacy of said previous album, but this ambitious late-career highlight from the originally slowcore trio is bombastic and urgent, proving them to be one of the most underrated and diverse indie acts of all time.
24. For My Mamma and Anyone Who Look Like Her by McKinley Dixon- 8.6/10: A really focused and engaging album, this jazz-rap masterclass I hope will end up helping propel Dixon in the wider hip-hop world, with this well-produced and written record practically begging to be heard.
23. Drunk Tank Pink by shame- 8.6/10: In another amazing year for British post-punk, shame got us started with Drunk Tank Pink, which, whilst not as impactful as their debut, is still a wonderful marriage between refined and gritty, containing some of their best songs yet.
22. CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST by Tyler, The Creator- 8.6/10: A victory lap from the now globally dominant rapper, CALL ME sees Tyler give us another great character to delve into, topping off one of the best upward ascents in hip-hop history, making me once again excited for what is next.
21. Collapsed by Sunbeams by Arlo Parks- 8.7/10: A subtle and delicate bedroom-pop debut, Arlo Parks proves herself an excellent singer-songwriter for the future, creating so much with so little, both instrumentally and lyrically, whilst proving she has a diverse and well-utilised set of influences.
20. Lux by Approaching Mountains- 8.7/10: The only real drone/ambient album this year to really grab my attention, this little-known record is a beautifully put together experience, creating a wonderful sense of time and place, bustling with textures and sounds that reveal themselves more and more on repeat listens.
19. A Beginner’s Mind by Sufjan Stevens and Angelo De Augustine- 8.7/10: An album that turns to film for inspiration, this pairing between an indie veteran (Stevens) and a relative newcomer (De Augustine) is an instrumentally, vocally and lyrical gorgeous indie-folk album that will be a must-have in many year-end lists.
18. Cavalcade by black midi- 8.8/10: Though I do miss the utter chaos of their debut, Cavalcade sees the ridiculously talented band push their sound into the avant-garde and jazz worlds, creating one of the strangest yet most original rock albums of the last 10 years (again).
17. Sling by Clairo- 8.8/10: With some solid production by the prolific Jack Antanoff, Clairo triumphs with her exquisite folk-influenced second LP, expanding her sound whilst keeping her bedroom-pop roots and improving upon her profoundly subtle and vulnerable songwriting.
16. Day/Night by Parcels- 8.8/10: The Byron Bay natives really did something great and ambitious on Day/Night, creating an immaculately produced and lush disco double-album about growing up and coming of age, making it one of my country’s best releases of the year.
15. ENTERTAINMENT, DEATH by SPIRIT OF THE BEEHIVE- 8.9/10: A free-wheeling, restless and feverish psychedelic album, ENTERTAINMENT, DEATH is one of the wildest trips of the year, combining noise and melody for a truly engaging and disorienting journey.
14. I Lie Here Buried With My Rings and My Dresses by Backxwash- 8.9/10: Harrowing and crushing, Canadian rapper Backxwash builds on her dark and winning formula of experimental hip-hop, building this disturbing, loud set of tracks, held together by her aggressive flows and urgent lyrics.
13. Home Video by Lucy Dacus- 9.0/10: One of the heavy-hitters in the female lead world of indie singer-songwriters, Home Video is so crushingly personal its almost uplifting, with Dacus creating a portrait of a deeply human individual who is unique, worthy of love and flawed.
12. Jubilee by Japanese Breakfast- 9.0/10: An album that almost escaped me, Japanese Breakfast’s third album is a wonderful set of art-pop gems, capturing the sound so much better than many of her peers, populating her album with incredibly well-written songs complete with diverse and addictive instrumentals.
11. Animal LUMP- 9.1/10: The second album between Mike Lindsey and Laura Marling is a confident, subtle and well-produced indietronica album, held together by Marling’s brilliant vocals and poised songwriting, making it both artists best effort, in my opinion.
10. Mercurial World by Magdalena Bay- 9.1/10: This synth-pop is simply endlessly fun; it really is remarkable to think that this is the duo’s debut, packed with bop after bop and the confident presence of front-woman Mica Tenebaum, making for the best dance-pop record of the year.
9. Smiling With No Teeth by Genesis Owusu- 9.2/10: The best artist to come out of Australia since Tame Impala, Genesis Owusu came through fully formed on his remarkable debut, combining everything from experimental hip-hop to neo-soul and even punk rock, punctuated by his sheer charisma and masterful lyrics.
8. Any Shape You Take by Indigo De Souza- 9.3/10: The best pure indie rock record of the year, Any Shape You Take is the product of the truly talented De Souza, whose ability as a musician, singer and song-writer is on full display on this emotional masterpiece.
7. The Turning Wheel by Spellling- 9.4/10: Complete with some of the best production you will hear on any record all year, The Turning Wheel and Spellling are not afraid of being out-there, crafting one of the most whimsical and masterful art-pop records in a long time.
6. CRAWLER by Idles- 9.5/10: The kings of British punk rock at the moment, Idles fourth album in just as many years is their darkest and murkiest yet, seeing the band move away from political activism to a deconstruction of addiction, front-man Joe Talbot giving some of his most pained and engaging lyrical and vocal performances yet.
5. LP! (Offline Version) by JPEGMAFIA- 9.5/10: Peggy cannot be stopped, with the experimental rapper/producer’s latest LP being his magnum opus so far, combining his ‘in-your-face’ style of rapping and intelligent production like he was born to do so, solidifying him as the true leader of internet-based hip-hop.
4. By the Time I Get To Phoenix by Injury Reserve- 9.6/10: Born out of the pain caused by one of their member’s (Groggs) death, this LP is mournful, difficult and one of the truest ‘experimental’ hip-hop albums ever made, pushing the genre far to its boundaries and daring not to be held down by convention.
3. Bright Green Field by Squid- 9.7/10: An album I have not been able to get enough of and a masterpiece through and through, UK post-punk experimentalists debut Bright Green Field is frantic, tightly wound and incredibly well-performed, filled with a variety of wonderful instrumentals, strange lyrics and wild vocal performances, setting the tone for what I think will be a great career.
2. Sometimes I Might Be Introvert by Little Simz- 9.9/10: The culmination of a quiet, determined and uncompromising career, British rapper Little Simz has really set the bar high for modern instrumental and lyrical hip-hop, combining some of the best live production on any hip-hop album ever with her genius rapping and lyrics, she is the best the UK has ever produced in her genre.
1. For the first time by Black Country, New Road- 10/10: Words sometimes escape me when trying to describe this album. At just six songs long, this UK seven-piece has managed to create one of the genuinely great experimental rock albums for the ages. From the perfect instrumentals on every song to the sardonic, nervous vocals and wonderful storytelling of front-man Isaac Wood, it is all I wanted and more, making it unquestionably my album of the year.