The Best Music of 2021: Albums

Only 14 albums stuck with me this year. It’s odd considering music is a huge part of my life. That’s not to say I didn’t listen to more music than the ones below, or enjoy more artists’ output. But I kept returning to these releases.

Maybe it’s our distracted world, our inability to sit with a book or a piece of music for more than an hour, for more than one listen. But maybe that’s what makes these albums special, at least for me, since they were able to break free from constant onslaught of notifications.

Above, I’ve hyperlinked my favorite songs from 2021, sequenced mainly by genre, everything from dance music to outlaw country to ambient.

Below, find links and some brief information on my favorite 14 releases from 2021.

Arlo Parks – Collapsed in Sunbeams

It’s so wild that this is the debut album from a human being that is only 21 years young. This thing is fully realized, each track has a groove that can get stuck in your head, and every lyric serves a purpose.

Key tracks: Eugene, Too Good, Black Dog

Kings of Convenience – Peace or Love

My second favorite duo (only behind Outkast) returns with their first new album in over 11 years. Two dudes, acoustic guitars, and warm melodies. What familiarity sounds like.

Key tracks: Rocky Trail, Catholic Country

Yasmin Williams – Urban Driftwood

This one is perfect for laying out the couch in front of a fire with a blanket over you and a good book. Yasmin Williams is an incredible fingerstyle guitar player from Virginia with a very bright future ahead of her.

Key tracks: Juvenescence

Modest Mouse – The Golden Casket

Although it will be tough for Modest Mouse to ever return to their peak from Lonesome Crowded West (1997) through We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank (2007), I’m always going to be stoked when they out out new music and give themselves an excuse to tour. This album is not their best, but it does have some standout tracks. Plus, they still kick some serious ass live.

Key tracks: We Are Between, Back to the Middle

Flock of Dimes – Head of Roses

The solo project of Jenn Wasner continues to make some of the best alternative pop music out there. It’s challenging and introspective as all music should be on the fringes of the mainstream. I always appreciate when someone close to my age can sing the things I’m curious about.

Key tracks: Two, Awake for the Sunrise

Every Time I Die – Radical

I’m not going to pretend this album is for everyone. It’s insane that these guys are not only still making music together, but putting out punishing hardcore and metal at an elite level. I don’t understand why they don’t get more respect from critics, but I suspect it’s from getting lumped in with all the screamo and emo acts of the 2000s. Either way, this album is heavy as fuck.

Key tracks: Planet Shit, AWOL

Action/Adventure – Pulling Focus

I like the music, but I love that they’re from Chicago. This is power pop punk with great choruses and huge riffs. I would’ve ate this up at the Fireside Bowl when I was an emo kid back in the day.

Key tracks: Barricades, Poser

The War on Drugs – I Don’t Live Here Anymore

What can I say about this album that a bajillion other people haven’t said already. It’s great. Really, really great. Not as good as the previous in my opinion, but I still love it. Background music for cruising.

Key tracks: Harmonia’s Dream, I Don’t Live Here Anymore

Kiefer – Between Days

Keifer makes heady beats out of LA somewhere between jazz, funk, house, and rnb that could be just as easily listened to on a rainy day or laying out on the beach. It’s quite the balance and I know you’ll find the right vibe for it.

Key tracks: Superhero, Everybody Loves the Sunshine

Lord Huron – Long Lost

The fourth studio album from these fellas is not my favorite, but it had plenty of bops to make the list. It scratches that indie folk itch.

Key tracks: Mine Forever, Not Dead Yet

Hiatus Kaiyote – Mood Valiant

This is the album I’ve been waiting for these guys to make. It wrangles in all their avant-garde sensibilities for something more palatable for commercial audiences. This band is incredible with one of the most powerful vocalists in their lead singer. She is something else.

Key tracks: Get Sun, Chivalry is Not Dead

Barry Can’t Swim – Amor Fati

Such a fun EP from this young UK producer. All his tracks are pure joy, but “Jazz Club After Hours” is the one.

Jungle – Love in Stereo

Jungle returns with the disco record I never knew I needed. It’s fantastic front to back.

Key tracks: Keep Moving, Talk About It

Gavinco – Dumont

I don’t know much about Gavinco besides that he is another UK producer and DJ. His brand of jazzy house is right up my alley and this album has been on repeat since I found him.

Key Tracks: Dumont

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