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Top 50 Albums of 2021

These are the LPs that stood out in a year of media overload

Top 50 Albums 2021
Illustration by Steven Fiche
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    Our 2021 Annual Report continues with our Top 50 Albums list. As the year winds down, stay tuned for more awards, lists, and articles about the best music, film, and TV of 2021. You can find it all in one place here.


    We’re all friends here, so let’s be honest: Most playlists are boring. Corporation-curated playlists are boring, influencer playlists are boring, and the playlist you made for your high school crush became boring the moment you liked someone new.

    We use them at times — road tripping, studying, or working out — for a pleasant background vibe. But when it comes to prolonged active listening, only an album can demand your full attention.

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    That was especially true in 2021. Many workers returned to the office, even as the COVID-19 pandemic continued to teach us new letters of the Greek alphabet. As if the state of the world weren’t enough, 2021 saw a glut of fresh television series, while the biggest blockbuster movies beamed directly into our living rooms. There’s more to distract us than ever before. So when we put on our headphones or fire up those speakers, we deserve more than a random collection of songs.

    The year’s best albums built idea on idea, theme on theme, one track at a time. Some explored the heaviness of life and death, and others provided us with all the joy we were missing from the world at large. What they have in common is an awareness of how to place a thought next to another thought, building in richness and complexity.

    These are the 50 best albums of 2021.

    — Wren Graves
    News Editor


    50. St. Vincent – Daddy’s Home

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    Whatever new persona Annie Clark dons, you can count on her wearing it like a method actor, totally embodying whatever mode she’s in. The lounging psychedelia of Daddy’s Home was surprising, following the futuristic art-pop of MASSEDUCTION, but the shift is completely owned by the artist. Though it may take a few listens to be convinced to go down the sepia-toned rabbit hole, doing so will reveal a fully realized conceptual world worthy of the patient journey. — Ben Kaye | Listen on Apple Music


    49. Katy Kirby – Cool Dry Place

    katy kirby cool dry place Top 50 Albums of 2021

    Katy Kirby’s quest for connection on Cool Dry Place is soft, sweet, and undemanding — but sophisticated in that restraint. The songwriting on tracks like “Peppermint” and “Secret Language” is pure in its beauty, while lyrical turns like “I’m an alternate universe in Target lingerie/ You’re a country song in three-four time” (“Portals”) are confoundingly charming. In a year overloaded with complexities, a simple reminder that we’re all fumbling to understand ourselves and each other can be exquisitely soothing. — B. Kaye | Listen on Apple Music


    48. Amyl & The Sniffers – Comfort to Me

    Amyl The Sniffers %E2%80%93 Comfort to Me Top 50 Albums of 2021

    Australian punk quartet Amyl & The Sniffers’ second album, Comfort to Me, screams “passion project” from its title to its vintage sound. At the same time, it doubles as a comfort to those concerned about the genre’s future. The band grasps all strands of punk between the instant catchiness of power-pop (“Hertz”), the macabre sheen of gothic rock (“No More Tears”), and the distorted riffiness of hardcore (“Capital”). — Bryan Kress | Listen on Apple Music


    47. Yola – Stand for Myself

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    Yola %E2%80%93 Stand For Myself Top 50 Albums of 2021

    Grammy-nominated artist Yola delivered a lovely collection this year in the form of Stand for Myself, a genre-fluid album partially inspired by her mother’s record collection. The LP draws from multiple eras; there are moments that signal Dolly Parton in the 1970s, others that recall the sampling trend of the ’90s. The tether keeping everything cohesive is Yola’s commitment to authenticity. — Mary Siroky | Listen on Apple Music


    46. BROCKHAMPTON – ROADRUNNER: NEW LIGHT, NEW MACHINE

    BROCKHAMPTON %E2%80%93 ROADRUNNER NEW LIGHT NEW MACHINE  Top 50 Albums of 2021

    Coming off the sticky success of their first Hot 100 hit, “SUGAR,” BROCKHAMPTON had plans for a pop-leaning follow-up album. When COVID-19 quarantine led to the group living under the same roof for the first time in years, however, they went into a more rap-centric direction while continuing to focus on melody. Drawing inspiration from the pandemic and personal tragedy, ROADRUNNER: NEW LIGHT, NEW MACHINE is their tightest, most cohesive work to date. The collective has never been more open emotionally, elevating their songwriting to new levels. — Eddie Fu | Listen on Apple Music


    45. Courtney Barnett – Things Take Time, Take Time

    Courtney Barnett %E2%80%93 Things Take Time Take Time Top 50 Albums of 2021

    Courtney Barnett’s Things Take Time, Take Time set an easy mood in another year of unexpectedness. Songs like “Rae Street” blend Barnett’s guitar strumming with her always lush harmonies while “Here’s the Thing” shifts from clear to dreamy in moments. While crafting the LP, Barnett “learned a lot about being more open, more trusting, and more vulnerable, and just not being as scared.” Good advice for any of us. — Steven Fiche | Listen on Apple Music


    44. Haviah Mighty – Stock Exchange

    Haviah Mighty %E2%80%93 Stock Exchange Top 50 Albums of 2021

    If the last few years for Polaris Music Prize-winning rapper Haviah Mighty have been about building self-worth while accruing interest and accolades from others, her latest mixtape Stock Exchange is the moment she cashes in. The Toronto-based artist boldly expands her lyrical scale to tackle the Transatlantic Slave Trade on track one, while packing her best rhymes into the scorching social justice single “Protest.” — B. Kress | Listen on Apple Music


    43. Squid – Bright Green Field

    Squid %E2%80%93 Bright Green Field Top 50 Albums of 2021

    The post-punk buzz coming out of England right now is deafening — in all the best ways. Signing onto famed electronic label Warp signaled that Squid were going to be bringing something different to the scene with their debut studio album, Bright Green Field. The squawks of drummer-singer Ollie Judge are immediate, but don’t let that distract too much from the layered cacophony of the music itself. There’s some superbly talented musicianship behind all that noise. — B. Kaye | Listen on Apple Music


    42. The Weather Station – Ignorance

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    The Weather Station %E2%80%93 Ignorance Top 50 Albums of 2021

    Canadian singer-songwriter Tamara Lindeman begins her fifth album, Ignorance, in pursuit of a perpetrator that she can’t quite ensnare. It’s a hopeless chase that defines an album full of restless melancholy and resigned wisdom earned from confronting impenetrable power structures, personal grievances, and facing the immovable obstacles locked within the human condition. — B. Kress | Listen on Apple Music


    41. Injury Reserve – By the Time I Get to Phoenix

    Injury Reserve %E2%80%93 By the Time I Get to Phoenix Top 50 Albums of 2021

    Combining elements of noise rap, trip-hop, and post-rock, Injury Reserve used an improvised live DJ set from 2019 as a template to stretch their boundaries on By the Time I Get to Phoenix. The trio also had plenty of songwriting inspiration in 2020, drawing from heavy topics like the societal upheaval of the pandemic and the racial reckoning following the murder of George Floyd. Then, tragedy struck with the passing of founding member Stepa J. Groggs. Surviving duo Ritchie With a T and Parker Corey were able to see the album through, allowing fans to fully experience Groggs’ vision. — E.F. | Listen on Apple Music


    40. Halsey – If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power

    Halsey %E2%80%93 If I Cant Have Love I Want Power Top 50 Albums of 2021

    “My body has belonged to the world in many different ways the past few years, and this is my means of reclaiming my autonomy,” Halsey shared ahead of the release of their fourth studio album. If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power is heavier than much of the alt-pop artist’s previous work, while retaining some of the bold hallmarks of her discography to date. Meanwhile, expert production input from Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross helped the album take flight. — M. Siroky | Listen on Apple Music


    39. Amigo the Devil – Born Against

    Amigo the Devil %E2%80%93 Born Against Top 50 Albums of 2021

    On his second album, April Artist of the Month Amigo the Devil (aka Danny Kiranos) further establishes himself as one of modern music’s best lyricists. Each of the songs on Born Against tells a compelling story, often dabbling in the macabre and sometimes sprinkled with a dark sense of humor. Standout tunes include the engrossing “Murder at the Bingo Hall” and opener “Small Stone,” on which Amigo shows off his vocal pipes like never before. — Spencer Kaufman | Listen on Apple Music


    38. The Armed – ULTRAPOP

    The Armed %E2%80%93 ULTRAPOP Top 50 Albums of 2021

    Post-hardcore collective The Armed outdid themselves on ULTRAPOP, which has traces of noise rock, shoegaze, and, of course, pop. From the dozens of musicians that contributed to ULTRAPOP came segments of discord and pounding moments of unity, all built and executed with meticulous precision and detail. Album highlight “An Iteration” best represents the group’s powerful mix, leaving an aftertaste equally bitter as it is sweet. — Paolo Ragusa | Listen on Apple Music


    37. Black Country, New Road – For the first time

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    Black Country New Road %E2%80%93 For the first time Top 50 Albums of 2021

    There is a fearlessness with which Black Country, New Road navigate their debut LP, For the first time. The British seven-piece performs a style of post rock that is alien to their contemporaries, filled with eclectic styles, strikingly witty lyrics from vocalist Isaac Wood, and a remarkably layered cacophony of sound beneath it all. — P.R. | Listen on Apple Music


    36. Mach-Hommy – Pray for Haiti

    Mach Hommy %E2%80%93 Pray for Haiti Top 50 Albums of 2021

    Perennially-masked Newark rapper Mach-Hommy keeps a low-profile in all regards but his music. Whether touching on his Haitian-American roots or dispensing Creole passages, his lyrics are built upon the backs of pure facts and empirical data,” as he says on “The Stellar Ray Theory.” Executive-produced by Griselda Records ringleader Westside Gunn, the album marks their first collaboration in five years despite their prolific individual clips. (Mach just released another full LP, Balens Cho, in December). Because of Mach’s unique perspective, the LP succeeds as more than just a nominal successor to Gunn’s 2020 masterpiece Pray for Paris. — B. Kress | Listen on Apple Music


    35. Mdou Moctar – Afrique Victime

     Top 50 Albums of 2021

    There are too few rock bands willing to stretch songs as far out as Mdou Moctar does on the title track of his fifth album, Afrique Victime, and none accomplish it with the swagger of his Saharan time signatures. The Tuareg singer-guitarist offers a virtuosic perspective that’s not only refreshing to the rock landscape, but downright enriching to the soul. — B. Kress | Listen on Apple Music


    34. Jon Batiste – WE ARE

    Jon Batiste %E2%80%93 WE ARE Top 50 Albums of 2021

    Though he beams into bedrooms every week night as bandleader on The Late Show, Jon Batiste re-introduces himself with his most complete, personal expression of self on WE ARE. It’s rewarding to hear the New Orleans jazz multi-instrumentalist (and most-nominated artist at the upcoming 2022 Grammys) shake off the churn of nightly talk show house music to successfully create music with such permanence. — B. Kress | Listen on Apple Music


    33. Isaiah Rashad – The House Is Burning

    Isaiah Rashad %E2%80%93 The House Is Burning Top 50 Albums of 2021

    Isaiah Rashad’s 2016 debut, The Sun’s Tirade, established him as one of Top Dawg Entertainment’s best artists. Not long afterward, he disappeared from the spotlight, spending time in rehab and threatening to quit rapping for money. Thankfully, Zay found his way back to distill some of his favorite Southern influences (Three 6 Mafia, Project Pat) into The House Is Burning. A lesser rapper would’ve stumbled while constantly switching up his flow to match the woozy production and convey a range of emotions, but Rashad holds it all together with ease. — E.F. | Listen on Apple Music


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

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    The War on Drugs %E2%80%93 I Dont Live Here Anymore Top 50 Albums of 2021

    On the opening track to I Don’t Live Here Anymore, The War on Drugs’ mastermind Adam Granduciel sings, “I’ll keep improving/ Taking me home/ I’m always changing/ Now I suppose.” For a rock band that could very easily fall into “same-same” territory five albums in, that line well sums up their career. They’ve found a new peak with their indie Americana sound, one where intimate lyricism carves into serene sonic mountains. By getting more personal, Granduciel has made his band’s most universal record yet. — B. Kaye | Listen on Apple Music


    31. Taylor Swift – Red (Taylor’s Version)

    Taylor Swift %E2%80%93 Red Taylors Version Top 50 Albums of 2021

    When Taylor Swift released her re-recording of 2008’s Fearless earlier this spring, she proved she was more than capable of crafting a near facsimile of her art. But that didn’t prepare Swifties the world over for the Maserati ride into Sad Girl Autumn that was Red (Taylor’s Version). Not only did the superstar breathe new life into the happy, free, confused, and lonely picture she’d first painted back in 2012, she also left us reeling with the revelation that all this time she had even more shades of red hidden up her sleeve than we ever could have imagined. — Glenn Rowley | Listen on Apple Music


    30. Bo Burnham – Inside (The Songs)

    Bo Burnham %E2%80%93 Inside The Songs Top 50 Albums of 2021

    Doomscrolling, depression, capitalism, celebrity: Inside picks at the scabs of these concepts all over sparkling synths and bulletproof melodies. There’s no shortage of Commentary from Woke White Guys in comedy (or anywhere else), but Bo Burnham’s dramatization of pandemic cabin fever struck a nerve with unbridled honesty and a mastery of pop music. Just remember, he’s lying! — Carys Anderson | Listen on Apple Music

    Read our 2021 Comedian of the Year essay on Bo Burnham here.


    29. Remi Wolf – Juno

    Remi Wolf %E2%80%93 Juno Top 50 Albums of 2021

    A fever dream, a revelation, a fire. There’s so much happening on October Artist of the Month Remi Wolf’s debut album, Juno, that you’re almost unsure what to focus on first. Still, that’s kind of what makes it feel appropriate to the world we’re living in. Juno is a kaleidoscopic, Californian, funk-pop moving sidewalk on which Wolf genuinely seems to be having fun, with all of the creativity, conflict, quarantined frustration, doubt, and beauty that fun in this world involves. — Laura Dzubay | Listen on Apple Music


    28. Indigo de Souza – Any Shape You Take

     Top 50 Albums of 2021

    Indigo De Souza’s Any Shape You Take is an exercise in feeling. Whether she’s furious in the mistreatment by a partner, luxuriating in self-destruction, or soaking in the bliss of unconditional love, the Asheville musician’s second album pushes the boundaries of human emotion, palpable through her polished indie rock. — A.J. | Listen on Apple Music


    27. SAULT – NINE

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    It seems almost antithetical for elusive British collective SAULT to create such enduring music that only exists in the fleeting state of a 99-day release window. Though their self-imposed anonymity affords them a certain indefinability that matches the mélange of genres they offer, SAULT’s blend of modern and retro sounds gives timeless air to songs that deserve more shine in the spotlight. — B. Kress | Listen on Apple Music


    26. Billie Eilish – Happier Than Ever

    Billie Eilish %E2%80%93 Happier Than Ever Top 50 Albums of 2021

    Brutally honest and introspective, this sophomore release from the dark pop wunderkind pushed Billie Eilish to a new threshold. One of the most highly-anticipated albums of the year, Happier Than Ever reminded listeners that Eilish is indeed wise beyond her years. Whether it comes to her inventive structural choices (aided by her producing partner and brother, Finneas) or her consistently raw lyrics, this album proved that Eilish is here to stay. — M. Siroky | Listen on Apple Music


    25. Hovvdy – True Love

     Top 50 Albums of 2021

    Inspired by new marriage and early parenthood, Austin duo Hovvdy’s latest album, True Love, couldn’t have a more accurate title. Exploring themes of belonging, purpose, and what family truly means, the band infuse their slowcore-inspired sound with meditative, poppy guitar rock made for losing yourself in reverie. — A.J. | Listen on Apple Music


    24. Nick Cave & Warren Ellis – Carnage

    Nick Cave Warren Ellis %E2%80%93 Carnage Top 50 Albums of 2021

    The wreckage of Nick Cave and longtime Bad Seeds member Warren Ellis’ collaborative album Carnage is both gradual and catastrophic, a result and reflection of the natural eroding forces of time. Cave’s bottom-register bellow amidst Ellis’ weathered strings evokes a resilience that renders the closing sentiment “what doesn’t kill you just makes you crazier” oddly comforting. — B. Kress | Listen on Apple Music


    23. McKinley Dixon – For My Mama and Anyone Who Look Like Her

    McKinley Dixon %E2%80%93 For My Mama And Anyone Who Look Like Her  Top 50 Albums of 2021

    There was arguably no better composed hip-hop record in 2021 then McKinley Dixon’s trilogy-closing For My Mama and Anyone Who Look Like Her. Those jazzy arrangements give the Spacebomb Records artist a spellbinding backing for his tales of trauma and healing. Our May Artist of the Month wields both sonic originality and personal poetry to craft a poignant bridge between community and self. — B. Kaye | Listen on Apple Music


    22. Olivia Rodrigo – Sour

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    Olivia Rodrigo %E2%80%93 Sour Top 50 Albums of 2021

    Sour is Olivia Rodrigo’s middle finger to anyone who presumed that her breakout single, “drivers license,” would render her a one-hit wonder. Across the album, she assumes the roles of pop-punk bandleader, Laurel Canyon crooner, and mainstream pop superstar in a concise 11 tracks. Though the 18-year-old still appears to be zeroing in on her signature sound, it’s a joy to hear her find her way. — A.J. | Listen on Apple Music


    21. Pom Pom Squad – Death of a Cheerleader

    Pom Pom Squad %E2%80%93 Death of a Cheerleader Top 50 Albums of 2021

    One listen to June Artist of the Month Pom Pom Squad’s excellent debut album, Death of a Cheerleader, is all it takes to know frontwoman Mia Berrin has come into her own. Not only does the 23-year-old show off the versatility of her production skills alongside co-producer Sara Tudzin of illuminati hotties, the 14-track collection arrives as a fully-formed mission statement following Pom Pom Squad’s evolution from one-woman persona to promising indie rock quarter. And now that the cheerleader’s buried six feet under, the band just might be ready to take over the world. — G.R. | Listen on Apple Music


    20. Adele – 30

    Adele %E2%80%93 30 Top 50 Albums of 2021

    Listening to an Adele album is an awful lot like getting a big hug from a friend who just saw you burst into unexpected tears — which is to say, it’s a lot. But 30 represents yet another evolution for the artist in how she captures not just the most intense human drama, but what it means to search for peace and healing in the aftermath of some sort of big life event — like, say, a divorce. “I need some substance in my life/ Something real, something that feels true,” she sings on “I Drink Wine.” For all of us, her music offers up exactly that. — Liz Shannon Miller | Listen on Apple Music


    19. Geese – Projector

    Geese %E2%80%93 Projector Top 50 Albums of 2021

    Our November Artist of the Month Geese’s Projector is the sound of a young band making music like it’s a Choose Your Own Adventure book. Each song features a myriad of style changes, pinwheeling riffs, and overall excellent musicianship from all five members of the band. If the dance-worthy “Low Era” and the progressive rock romp of “Disco” and “Exploding House” are any indication, the young Brooklyn boys will be a force to be reckoned with for a long time. — P.R. | Listen on Apple Music


    18. Boldy James, The Alchemist – Bo Jackson

    Boldy James The Alchemist %E2%80%93 Bo Jackson Top 50 Albums of 2021

    Who is better than Alchemist right now? We’ll wait. Bo Jackson isn’t the first time he and Boldy James have made beautiful music together, but this is their masterpiece. Alchemist understands how to mold beats around the rapper and accent what they do best. Boldy finds a pocket and lives in every song he’s on so that it’s impossible to imagine anyone else in his place. Bo Jackson is exhibit A-Z that one producer hooking up with one rapper for a project should be the norm, not the exception. — Marcus Shorter | Listen on Apple Music

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    Read our 2021 Producer of the Year interview with The Alchemist here.


    17. Dry Cleaning – New Long Leg

    Dry Cleaning %E2%80%93 New Long Leg Top 50 Albums of 2021

    London’s Dry Cleaning make eccentric, punky art-pop, led by the stone-cold vocals of frontwoman Florence Shaw. Their debut album, New Long Leg, is an intoxicating introduction to their world of droll ruminations and freakish imagery. Though Shaw’s monotony could easily forge a sense of tediousness, the album feels vivid and wondrous throughout. — A.J. | Listen on Apple Music


    16. IDLES – CRAWLER

    IDLES %E2%80%93 CRAWLER Top 50 Albums of 2021

    IDLES returned in 2021 with CRAWLER, their third full length in three years, and they’ve never sounded as subtle and meticulous. Frontman Joe Talbot reaches new heights throughout the effort as he describes his darkest moments in cleverly poetic detail. And yes, there is their usual post-punk fury, but CRAWLER features the band embracing their darker, theatrical side while staying true to their enigmatic, striking songwriting. — P.R. | Listen on Apple Music


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    15. Julien Baker – Little Oblivions

    Julien Baker %E2%80%93 Little Oblivions Top 50 Albums of 2021

    With Little Oblivions, Julien Baker effectively reintroduced herself and her music. Coming off a string of 2019 singles that flirted with a fuller sound, the Memphis-based singer-songwriter turned up the volume on her acclaimed third solo album to staggering effect. The LP’s indie rock soundscape finally matches the depth and vitality of her lyricism on highlights like “Heatwave,” “Favor,” and lead single “Faith Healer.” — G.R. | Listen on Apple Music


    14. Manchester Orchestra – The Million Masks of God

    Manchester Orchestra %E2%80%93 The Million Masks of God Top 50 Albums of 2021

    In an era where uncertainty feels crushingly omnipresent, Manchester Orchestra embraced the beauty of the purest truth: All life and death is uncertainty. The Million Masks of God explores all there is about growing, learning, and dying in a melodic cinescape. What it discovers is something haunting and beguiling, leaving the listener awash in the awe of the infinite and the intimate. Few albums capture totality with such effectiveness. — B. Kaye | Listen on Apple Music

    Read our end-of-year interview with Manchester Orchestra here.


    13. Doja Cat – Planet Her

    Doja Cat %E2%80%93 Planet Her Top 50 Albums of 2021

    Doja Cat reached pop star self-actualization with Planet Her, a kaleidoscopic album rife with swagger, sweetness, sex, and sass. The rapper flexes her bars on “Get Into It (Yuh)” and parades her sense of humor on “Ain’t Shit.” Still, her hooks reign supreme; how else could the twinkling “Kiss Me More” dominate TikTok? — C.A. | Listen on Apple Music


    12. Snail Mail – Valentine

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    Snail Mail %E2%80%93 Valentine Top 50 Albums of 2021

    On Valentine, Snail Mail’s Lindsey Jordan is no longer the wide-eyed 18-year-old who won hearts over with her breakout debut, Lush. Three years later, the indie rocker’s stellar sophomore album documents the precise feeling of despair when your first love falls through — and the strife of picking yourself up to find it again. — A.J. | Listen on Apple Music


    11. serpentwithfeet – DEACON

    serpentwithfeet %E2%80%93 Deacon Top 50 Albums of 2021

    On his sophomore record as serpentwithfeet, Baltimore native Josiah Wise celebrates the specifics of love, whether it’s sharing the same shoe size or blessing “the man who wears the socks with sandals.” Our March Artist of the Month‘s cherished minutiae are all just preparation before DEACON gets leveled by the big picture moments on album closers “Heart Storm” with NAO and the Sampha-assisted “Fellowship.” — B. Kress | Listen on Apple Music


    10. illuminati hotties – Let Me Do One More

    Illuminati Hotties %E2%80%93 Let Me Do One More Top 50 Albums of 2021

    Sarah Tudzin — aka illuminati hotties — cut her teeth mixing, engineering, and producing for some major indie artists. Meanwhile, she found her project at a standstill due to label conflicts. After creating her own imprint label, Tudzin released the scorching Let Me Do One More this year, and rightfully asserted her place as one of the most dynamic indie artists around.

    With summery pop-punk gems, moving ballads, and heartfelt songs about the caustic nature of capitalism, Let Me Do One More is a powerful, deeply personal statement from our September Artist of the Month. Throughout the album, Tudzin’s lyrics and eclectic style span a full range of emotions — joy, rage, fear, confusion, disgust, and, at times, love — as she juxtaposes sentiments of normalcy with an air of violence and chaos.

    Not only is it one of the best indie rock albums of the year, it’s a provocative statement of determination and artistry: Even if you limit her access to putting out music, even if you limit how much she can earn from it, and even if you don’t like it, illuminati hotties is going to keep asking to do “one more.” — P.R. | Listen on Apple Music


    09. Armand Hammer, The Alchemist – Haram

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    Armand Hammer The Alchemist %E2%80%93 Haram Top 50 Albums of 2021

    The word “haram” is Arabic for “forbidden,” and as the graphically porky album art makes clear, Haram is concerned with transgression and taboo. After decades in the game, The Alchemist has become a fixture on lists like this; his spaced-out, atmospheric beats would leave lesser MCs drifting, but ELUCID and billy woods of Armand Hammer are flow masters of the highest caliber, and they know exactly where they’re going.

    Haram doesn’t bounce from topic to topic — it teleports, as calls to “kill your landlord” are followed by punchlines about busting a nut, and the wounds of colonialism are contemplated from a fluffy cloud of weed smoke. Just as the artwork promises a tasty meal if you can get past the brutal butchery, Haram posits that true pleasure always hides behind real pain. — Wren Graves | Listen on Apple Music

    Read our 2021 Producer of the Year interview with The Alchemist here.


    08. Lil Nas X – Montero

    Lil Nas X %E2%80%93 Montero Top 50 Albums of 2021

    Montero was an album that couldn’t be ignored. Beyond the truly awe-inspiring marketing tactics that kept us all glued to the album rollout, it’s a genuinely heartfelt collection from one of the boldest and brightest voices in music. For someone so young, our 2021 Artist of the Year Lil Nas X demonstrates impressive range over fifteen tracks, offering earworms and emotional insights alike.

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    Montero sees the young pop-rapper more vulnerable than ever. As playful as his larger-than-life persona is, the album holds quite a few moments of devastation, particularly on tracks like “SUN GOES DOWN,” in which he recalls the experience of grappling with his sexuality.

    Lil Nas X is exciting. He’s undeniably bold. He’s the sort of music star and pop culture fixture for which so many have been waiting. He’s not going to go away quietly, or easily — Montero has made sure of that. — M. Siroky | Listen on Apple Music

    Read our 2021 Artist of the Year essay on Lil Nas X here.


    07. CHVRCHES – Screen Violence

    CHVRCHES %E2%80%93 Screen Violence Top 50 Albums of 2021

    Out of darkness comes light. After turning to pop mega-producers for their third full-length, CHVRCHES reconvened as a trio during 2020 to dive into their horror-inspired fourth LP. The result is unquestionably the best effort of their career.

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    Screen Violence is a pandemic record that is going to outlast this blasted virus. Much of the core concept is based on the burden of screens in modern life, something only amplified in the year the songs were coming together. Rather than focus on that literal reliance, though, Lauren Mayberry hones in on the violence these rectangles of light have been enacting for years.

    The cruelty of strangers (“Violent Delights”), expectations (“He Said She Said”), fame (“California”), misogyny (“Good Girls”),  and more are explored throughout these ten tracks. Marrying those non-fiction terrors with the sounds of fictional fright films gives them both fresh urgency and boldness. At the same time, the album retains CHVRCHES’ characteristic synthpop bona fides, particularly on highlights like “Final Girl” and “Asking for a Friend.”

    CHVRCHES go big even as they go dark, yet manage to stay fun. If the best art reflects the times in which it’s created, is there better praise for music in 2021? — B. Kaye | Listen on Apple Music

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    Read our 2021 Band of the Year interview with CHVRCHES here.


    06. Lucy Dacus – Home Video

    Lucy Dacus %E2%80%93 Home Video Top 50 Albums of 2021

    Some say God is in the details, others the Devil, but the correct answer is clearly Lucy Dacus. Time and again on Home Video, she chooses small gestures that manage to convey some of the biggest emotions known to humankind.

    Entire John Hughes movies have been devoted to the rawness and humor of teen rebellion, but what’s the point when Dacus can casually toss out an anecdote about “snorting nutmeg in your bunk bed” at vacation Bible school (“VBS”)? Nobody’s better at sketching a whole relationship in a line, whether it’s a distant father saying, “‘Honey, you sure look great/ Do you get the checks I send on your birthday?'” on “Thumbs,” or a woman committed to a loser on “Christine,” as Dacus observes, “I see you look at him and wonder if he’ll make you a mother.”

    The album is called Home Video, the better to direct our attention to the gauzy nostalgia of the early 2000s milieu. But while the collection is pleasant, it is hardly gentle; Dacus is hiding razorblades in the space between the words. — W.G. | Listen on Apple Music


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    05. Little Simz – Sometimes I Might Be Introvert

    Little Simz %E2%80%93 Sometimes I Might Be Introvert Top 50 Albums of 2021

    Sometimes I Might Be Introvert is a backronym for Simbi, the nickname Little Simz uses among her friends. Unveiling her true self afforded the British-Nigerian rapper the opportunity of not having to choose between making art for herself and living up to the expectations of an artist praised by the likes of Kendrick Lamar.

    There’s a sense of freedom from the start with album opener “Introvert,” which pairs operatic production with dense rhymes about the corrupt UK government and social justice. That’s Simbi, who appears on other tracks like “I Love You I Hate You.” Little Simz takes over in the second half, which is filled with club bangers and boastful raps like “Rolling Stone” (“Can’t believe it’s Simbi here that’s had you listenin’/ Well, fuck that bitch for now, you didn’t know she had a twin”).

    Regardless of which twin is manning the guns, there isn’t a single misfire on the album. Even the interludes serve a purpose, bringing the record together with speeches delivered by The Crown actress Emma Corrin. Long live Simbi and long live Little Simz. — E.F. | Listen on Apple Music


    04. Turnstile – GLOW ON

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    Turnstile %E2%80%93 GLOW ON Top 50 Albums of 2021

    Baltimore’s Turnstile had already established themselves as one of hardcore’s most dynamic live acts by the time they released their third studio album, GLOW ON. Their high-energy shows feature fan participation to the max, as dozens of loyal concertgoers go flying off the stage at each and every gig.

    With this LP, Turnstile cement themselves as a dynamic recording act, as well. Preceded by the EP Turnstile Love Connection (featuring four songs that are also included on the album), GLOW ON represents a band that sees no boundaries when it comes to musical exploration.

    Ranging from the infectious riff-fueled rocker “Mystery” to the melodic hardcore of “Blackout” to the ethereal wonder of “Alien Love Call” (featuring Blood Orange), GLOW ON is a magnificent mix of chaos and beauty. — S.K. | Listen on Apple Music

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    Check out our interview with Heavy Band of the Year Turnstile here.


    03. Arlo Parks – Collapsed in Sunbeams

    Arlo Parks %E2%80%93 Collapsed in Sunbeams Top 50 Albums of 2021

    London singer-songwriter Arlo Parks gently brings listeners into her world on Collapsed in Sunbeams. Gentle, soulful melodies are built atop lush production pairing head-nodding drums with warm synths and mesmerizing acoustic guitar. It’s the quietly magnetic songwriting, however, that really captures one’s attention.

    With a background rooted in poetry, our January Artist of the Month paints intimate portraits with each song, drawing from her experiences with queerness, mental health, body image, and self-acceptance to tell stories that feel both deeply specific and universal. Songs like “Green Eyes” depict the struggles of being young and queer, while the character-based “Caroline” and “For Violet” are enhanced by Parks’ own perspective.

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    At just 21 years old, Parks has already mastered the art of creating music that feels small and all-encompassing at the same time. There’s still plenty of room to grow from her debut, though, as she begins to evolve her sound for future material. We can’t wait to see what comes next. — E.F. | Listen on Apple Music


    02. Japanese Breakfast – Jubilee

    Japanese Breakfast %E2%80%93 Jubilee Top 50 Albums of 2021

    Michelle Zauner wrote Psychopomp and Soft Sounds from Another Planet, her first two albums as Japanese Breakfast, in the aftermath of losing her mother to cancer. On Jubilee, however, the indie rock musician celebrates her unwavering capacity for joy in spite of the persisting grief.

    Zauner, who also released her bestselling memoir Crying in H Mart this year, told Consequence expressing her grief through the book allowed her to be more buoyant when the time came to create another album. “I was able to start a new chapter, because I was able to purge everything I needed to say about grief and loss,” Zauner explained, “and able to give myself permission to embrace joy in this new way.”

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    Indeed, album opener “Paprika” announces Zauner’s arrival at this new stage of life with a wash of triumphant, marching-band-style orchestration; she adopts an ’80s-inspired sheen on “Be Sweet,” saccharine twee pop on “Kokomo, IN,” and sleek electronica on “Posing in Bondage.”

    Throughout it all, Zauner reaches to her highest limits of exhilaration. On “Paprika,” she sings, “How’s it feel to stand at the height of your powers, to captivate every heart?” — a line that feels somewhat self-referential. She quickly arrives at a swift conclusion that also conveniently summarizes Jubilee’s euphoric ambience: “Oh, it’s a rush!” — A.J. | Listen on Apple Music


    01. Tyler, the Creator – CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST

    Tyler the Creator %E2%80%93 CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST Top 50 Albums of 2021

    Tyler, the Creator shouted out Westside Gunn for making him want to rap again. It stands to reason we should all give Gunn a flower or two, because CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST is the best album of the year thanks in very large part to whatever got into Tyler’s system and made him go off on the microphone.

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    From the braggadocio mixed with emotional honesty of “CORSO” to the barely contained rage on “MANIFESTO,” Tyler’s latest has all the vitamins and nutrients a rap fan needs, complete with perfect cadences and clever wordplay. CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST is knee-deep in hip-hop history from its samples to its themes, but never feels like it belongs in a museum.

    Tyler pulls off the very high-wire act of being in the present while keeping at least a couple pinky toes in the past. And he does it all while remaining true to himself and remaining hip-hop’s enigmatic trickster who never does the same thing twice. But pray to whatever deity you worship that he does this again. — M. Shorter | Listen on Apple Music

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