Top 10 Best Albums of 2021

If the theme that unified my best albums of 2020 was surviving, the theme of the best albums of 2021 is healing. We’ve all had to endure trauma, especially these past two years but it goes even farther than that. This year it felt like most people spent it trying to pick up the pieces. Sometimes it was from laughing through the pain, other times it finding fun ways to escape and let loose, sometimes it was through letting out a good scream in frustration or crying their heart out, others some tried to talk it out with their loved ones or through therapy, some felt the weight of it all while trying to carry on. I think the albums I’ve listed captured all of that, and these albums certainly helped me through a lot of those awful and traumatic times. I asked myself the question if 2021 was a good year for music on the worst list, and looking now at my final list, I’ve decided yes, 2021 was an excellent year for music. My reason being that if the great album of the year were THIS great, then does it really matter if Lorde’s latest album was not very good or that Ed Sheeran keeps sucking? There were so many great albums that will stick in my mind and that I’ll beat into the ground long after I’ve forgotten about the mediocre and worst albums of the year. In fact, there were so many great albums that I decided this year I would include some honorable mentions. I’ve said before how I don’t like big year end lists and prefer to keep mine small - I want the best of the best, and big lists inevitably make great albums have to share space with albums that are only pretty good or even just okay. But I felt like if I didn’t at least mention some of the other albums I loved this year that I would be dishonest about my 2021 listening habits. So I’ll shout out some honorable mentions at the top, then a countdown from 10 to 1. I’ve talked long enough, so without further ado, this is the Top 10 Best Albums of 2021.

Sleigh Bells - Texis
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~Honorable Mention~

Sugary synths, great pop hooks, and explosive guitars come together beautifully on one of Sleigh Bella’s best albums to date. This is stuff to scream your lungs out to.
black midi - Cavalcade
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~Honorable Mention~

An absolute rollercoaster with great grooves and insane riffs. Not the best rock album of the year (we’ll get to that) but easily the coolest, and from one of the most promising young bands. Excellent record.
Genesis Owusu - Smiling With No Teeth
90
~Honorable Mention~

Speaking of promising young talent, Genesis Owusu’s debut record was the ambitious, genre-fused, concept album that many artists spend their entire career trying to create. I have a feeling this won’t be the last time we see Owusu on a list like this. You don’t want to be late to the party.
Arca - KicK iii
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~Honorable Mention~

A great reminder that writers should wait until the year is basically completely over before publishing lists like these. Arca’s KICK project as a whole deserves to be celebrated, and specifically KicK iii has not only quickly become my favorite album of hers but one of my favorite albums of the year, in a matter of two weeks no less. Shame I didn’t have more time with it, it might have made the list if it did. Still, support trans artists and give this beast a listen.
St. Vincent - Daddy's Home
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~Honorable Mention~

This was the last album I cut from the list, and it HURT to do. In any other year this could have been, like, #3. It really just came down to me not listening to it as much at the end of the year. But please give this a listen, one of St. Vincent’s best records and one of the best rock albums of the year that just unfortunately had a lot of competition.
Injury Reserve - By the Time I Get to Phoenix
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#10: Injury Reserve - By the Time I Get to Phoenix

It’s quite literally impossible to believe that this is the same band that made “Gravy n’ Biscuits”. What will most likely become recognized as the trio’s definitive record doesn’t resemble any project they have made before. But with the collective trauma of a world facing a new catastrophic crisis every day and the death and mourning process of key member Stepa J. Groggs, it’s easy to see how Injury Reserve was pushed to the bleak, distorted haze that is “By the Time I Get to Phoenix”. It may be too early to claim Injury Reserve created a new form of abstract hip-hop with this album, but I’m going to do it anyway. I can see their psychedelic sound collage of glitch hop and post rock being a new source of inspiration for young artists to follow, it’s so alien and removed from anything else currently happening in the mainstream or the underground. It’s the perfect soundscape for the themes of this record, painting an abstract yet cryptic and melancholic vibe. While “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” isn’t the first album address turmoil and mourning, it is one of the few that captures the uncertain feeling of it all and the confusing emotions that come with it. The chaotic noises matched with passionate earnings reflect the anxiety, paranoia, and anger you might feel, the down tempo and bleak beats with despondent vocals reflect the numb depression you could experience, and of course the standout penultimate track “Knees” is the tearful cry for relief from the pain. The final song “Bye Storm” comes across like a hopeful push forward for the band, and I hope Injury Reserve do see it through, as well as everyone listening. It’s been a rough two years, and even though “By the Time I Get to Phoenix’s” story probably doesn’t completely line up with everyone’s experience, I can probably guarantee almost everyone reading this had probably felt like this album at one point during 2020/2021. Absolute must-listen.
Slayyyter - Troubled Paradise
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#9: Slayyyter - Troubled Paradise

Y’all let me down by not making this blow up. I should have expected it, the album rollout was too long and Slayyyter’s label didn’t do a lot to push it, but I thought with an album this stacked with ridiculous bangers that “Troubled Paradise” would catch on more. Especially with hyperpop’s continued rise, people embracing escapist dance bops, and 2000’s era pop and rock making a comeback, I thought the one who did it best this year would have a better shake. Combining metallic hyperpop production with Slayyyter’s I radio ready ear candy hooks and ridiculously fun song concepts made “Troubled Paradise” a stellar collection of undeniable bangers. Even the songs I mentioned not caring for in my initial review grew on me (I have now fully embraced “Throatzilla” as my new hoe anthem), and it’s not hard to see why. This album is just fun through and through, with Slayyyter’s instantly loveable personality, a great sense of humor that comes through in the quotables. This makes the more sincere moments where she talks about heartbreak, her mental health, people who have hurt her, and finding love resonate even more, and shows that these pop anthems could be just as escapist for her as they are the listener. And honestly, everyone needs great “cry on the dance floor music”, and Slayyyter delivered that in spades. Slayyyter may not be ready for the main stage yet, but they don’t know what they’re missing. “Troubled Paradise” is meant to be heard in every queer club in the near future, and when that happens I’ll be screaming every chorus at the top of my lungs.
Lil Nas X - MONTERO
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#8: Lil Nas X - MONTERO

God, I fucking love this guy so much. I was rooting for Lil Nas X in 2019 besides not being fully on board with his musical output at the time, but in 2021 he became one of my heroes of the year. The villain to said hero was racist and homophobic America with his sidekick Satanic Panic, who constantly maxes asses of themselves by losing their minds over goofy shit that any sane person wouldn’t give a fuck about. LNX handled it all gracefully with his understanding of the Internet, a charming personality, and, of course, fucking bangers. “MONTERO” is filled with songs that light up a room; there are so many ear worms stacked within each track, from the production to the hooks to even the verses. Songs like the title track, “INDUSTRY BABY”, “SCOOP”, and “DOLLA SIGN SLIME” go stupid hard, while the dreamy production and LNX’s fantastic singing voice makes songs like “LOST IN THE CITADEL”, “SUN GOES DOWN”, “AM I DREAMING”, and especially “VOID” hit right in the feels. As I said before in my full length review, I think what will really make “MONTERO” stick around for the ones that grow up with it is the fact that it’s a main stage album made by a gay, black pop star. That would be a big deal just for representation alone, but the fact that he’s writing mainstream radio hits that center around blatantly queer narratives is not only important but it’s something that no mainstream pop artist with that amount of visibility has done before. I’m sure that unpacking his trauma and hardships from growing was likely therapeutic for him, and I hope he knows that a lot of younger queer people will find some sort of relief and comfort through his music because of him doing so. I think a lot of queer kids are going to see themselves in Lil Nas X, hell I think a lot of adults will too, and with visibility as big as his that makes it a very big fucking deal. The fact that “MONTERO” absolutely slaps is just icing on the cake. Love this record.
BROCKHAMPTON - ROADRUNNER: NEW LIGHT, NEW MACHINE
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#7: BROCKHAMPTON - ROADRUNNER (NEW LIGHT, NEW MACHINE)

BROCKHAMPTON has been no stranger to the awful past two years we’ve all been having, hell they’ve been having a rough time since 2018. Even their victories have come with losses, and their latest album, “ROADRUNNER: NEW LIGHT, NEW MACHINE” is no exception, underperforming in chart success and staying power despite garnering the most critical and fan praise the band had gotten since the “SATURATION” days. Which is a shame, because I frankly think “ROADRUNNER” blows the trilogy out of the water. I honestly think that for most of their post-2017 output, which I know is not the popular opinion. Sure, “SATURATION” had the flashy, youthful, and exciting energy that made BROCKHAMPTON easily infectious, and their following output probably wouldn’t hit as hard without connecting to the trilogy first, but the band needed to grow up, mature, improve their craft, and takes risks, which I think “ROADRUNNER” is the culmination of all of that. Matt, Kevin, and Merlyn are better than they’ve ever been, Bearface has greatly expanded his capabilities, Jabari’s singing now, Dom is as great as ever, and Joba has one of the most emotional performances I’ve heard in music all year. Friendship has always been a theme for the boys, but it’s never felt as important as it does on “ROADRUNNER”, as the other members show love and support for Joba as he grapples with the suicide of his father. By taking the colorful experimentation of “iridescence”, the heavier lyric themes of “iridescence” and “GINGER”, the the swagger, confidence, and hunger of the “SATURATION” trilogy, and turning all of those up to eleven, BROCKHAMPTON have made one of their finest entries to date and a perfect setup to what could possibly be the final BROCKHAMPTON album. The boys have grown so much as artists from their DIY roots, and they’ve experienced too much trauma, but I’m glad they stuck it out. The light is worth the wait.
Backxwash - I Lie Here Buried With My Rings and My Dresses
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#6: Backxwash - I Lie Here Buried With My Rings and My Dresses

Along with clipping. , Backxwash proves the some horror sequels can be just as good as the first. Backxwash has set the stakes high for the conclusion to this trilogy of albums, and I honestly have no idea how she’ll be able to follow the noisy, industrial downward spiral of “I Lie Here Buried With My Rings and My Dresses”. But then again, I also had no idea how she would follow up “God Has Nothing…”, and she managed to accomplish that. Backxwash created a freakish soundscape that many alternative artists could only dream of creating, and with this album it has only become more demonic and tormenting. The industrial drums hit harder, Ada Rook’s guitar lines rip through, Backxwash’s aggressive rapping and screaming sounds more demented and terrifying, and the atmosphere sounds like it’s straight from the underworld. And there are just so many jaw dropping moments, like Censored Dialogue’s hard hitting verse on “Terror Packets” that any trans person will be able to relate to, Backxwash’s multiple tributes to the late great SOPHIE, the short but effectively terrifying “BLOOD IN THE WATER”, the racist call out (especially to Justin Trudeau) on “666 IN LUXAXA”, the explosive freak out that concludes “NINE HELLS”, and of course the epic conclusion “BURN TO ASHES”, where Backxwash somehow takes an already incredible Godspeed You! Black Emperor sample and elevates it even further to cinematic levels. There’s so much anger and pain roaring through every song here, and if you have even a fraction of knowledge of how black people, immigrants, and trans people are treated in the world, Backxwash’s rage and sadness will obviously come across completely justified. Backxwash is not only creating some of the best experimental music of today, but especially with “I Lie Here Buried With My Rings and My Dresses” she has become such a powerful force for the black and queer community.
Silk Sonic - An Evening with Silk Sonic
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#5: Silk Sonic - An Evening with Silk Sonic

I cannot believe this isn’t higher. An album whose only real criticism I have being “this could stand to be a little longer” is somehow only sitting on #5 of my list. That’s insane. I’ll get into the albums that I liked even more than this, but gosh, what an incredible record. No wonder Silk Sonic seemingly brought everyone together in its enjoyment, “An Evening with Silk Sonic” really is just that good. Like I said in my review, I didn’t see Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak ever collaborating, but now that they have they’re clearly a match made in Heaven, they just being out the best in each other. Gorgeous production, Bruno’s great ear for song structure, .Paak’s free and relaxed nature, stellar vocal performances, a good mix of sexy and sincere intimacy, and infectious, charismatic fun, these guys constantly topped themselves and made one of the most enjoyable listens of the year. I guess the question is where do Anderson and Bruno go from here? It’s been a few years since .Paak’s last solo project, even longer for Mars - they probably want to go back to their own thing, but this is quite obviously the best record either have ever been a part of. And I think they both know they can’t just redo their first album again, but part of their appeal is the way they pay homage to the golden age of music - how can Silk Sonic a) keep the magic of their first album, b) do something new, and c) somehow manage to top their critically and commercially successful debut? Considering their fantastic material here, it’s going to be pretty hard to do, but I would love to see them try. And even if this is just a one time thing, what an amazing gift that these guys gave to us in one of the worst of years. “An Evening with Silk Sonic” brought two solid artists together and made them the best versions of themselves and gave us some of the most irresistible music of the whole year. And I love four other albums more than it.
Black Country, New Road - For the first time
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#4: Black Country, New Road - For the first time

2021 gave us a new highly acclaimed post-rock album seemingly every other week, and the conversations around which one was the best quickly centered around a friendly competition between three bands from the Windmill scene in England. Squid had a decent enough debut, black midi’s sophomore LP was fantastic, but for me, Black Country, New Road was clearly the best one of all with their fantastic debut “For the first time”. This album was also released the earliest of any other record on this list, but despite the earliest albums of the year usually falling further into the background as it goes on, “For the first time” stayed right in the foreground as a 2021 masterpiece. And rightfully so - not only is Black Country, New Road’s sound completely unique from everything else today, it’s also so elevated. It’s hard to even pin this record down, combining influences of post-punk, jazz, math rock, klezmer, I’ve heard their music compared to Slint, Swans, Daughters, even one of my friends said “Sunglasses” had a little bit of Zappa. And with their unique sound they are able to make quite an impression, with the manic rantings and ramblings of vocalist Isaac Wood that often deal with crisis of identity, the killer guitar and bass riffs matched with brilliant drum grooves, the mix between Lewis Evans’s sax and Georgia Ellery’s violin that often lead to the most beautiful and the most chaotic moments throughout the record, and of course the band’s excellent understanding of the dynamic build and release of tension. And gosh, this was also just music to scream and let your frustration out to. There isn’t much you can about “For the first time”, because you really don’t need to - it’s the kind of greatness that is just obvious. Black Country, New Road made an album of klezmer inspired post-punk with panic attacks about science fairs and Kanye West, and the experience is nothing less than transcendent.
Bo Burnham - Inside (The Songs)
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#3: Bo Burnham - Inside (The Songs)

I think most people were content with Bo Burnham moving on from stand up back in 2016 considering everything he said in “Can’t Handle This”, so him arriving with a brand new stand up special with ten days notice caught everyone off guard. It became immediately clear that “Inside” was the best thing Bo has ever been a part of and one of the best pieces of media of the year, with consistently funny humor, sharp commentary, incredible production with a limited amount of resources (all done by him), and, of course, the subject of this blurb - the songs. Todd In The Shadows put it best, being a musical comedian is one of the hardest forms of art you could do, because not only do you have to be funny, which is already hard enough, but you have to be funny every time someone listens to you because songs are meant to be revisited, plus you have to deal with the normal obstacles of songwriting. Lil Dicky doesn’t even manage to be funny once during his songs, and his songwriting is barely better than his comedy. Bo already had a strong leg at pulling this off, but “Inside (The Songs)” put him in another league. Songs like “Comedy” and both “Bezos” cuts crack me up after six months of beating them to the ground, and the fact that they’re well produced and catchy as hell makes them even better. These make the songs that aren’t as funny and focus more on commentary on the world around us and his personal mental health struggles resonate even more, as Bo grapples with the crumbling world around him and how hopeless it makes him feel. I feel as though it is the fact that “Inside” is so personal to him that made it so relatable to everyone, giving us a personal look into his miserable covid year that probably reflected what a lot of our years looked like. 2020-2021 have been incredibly traumatic for all of us, and with “Inside”, Bo Burnham gave us a space for a much overdue laugh and cry.
Little Simz - Sometimes I Might Be Introvert
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#2: Little Simz - Sometimes I Might Be Introvert

The fact that the album most people were talking about in September 3rd 2021 was Drake’s “Certified Lover Boy” is a fucking crime, especially considering how night and day it was to this list’s 2nd entry. In contrast to CLB, the culmination of a downward fall from Drake not trying literally the second he could stop trying, “Sometimes I Might Be Introvert” is the culmination of Little Simz, who had always been great and always stayed hungry, working hard to become the greatest version of herself. The end result is easily her magnum opus, a cinematic hip-hop masterpiece with larger than life production and Little Simz’s outstanding delivery and lyricism. Most artists would be quickly swallowed by Inflo’s grand production on this record, but Simbi rides each instrumental effortlessly with her understated but confident delivery and killer bars that are paired with emotionally grabbing story telling. Little Simz addresses a lot of themes and stories from her life that are not only interesting but they’re also complicated. Simbi really goes the extra mile to explore how her experiences make her feel, like how she not only goes into how her near death experience affected her but also tries to understand how our modern systems of oppression lead to her attacker hurting her, or how she expresses the pain that her father has caused her growing up yet stick recognizes the flawed human underneath it all. And of course there’s the running theme of her introversion, what causes her to act this way, and how introverted minds can be much wilder and colorful than their demeanor may seem. Outside of music nerd circles, Little Simz is still largely slept on, which may be due to current trends in rap and, to put it lightly, misogyny. But believe the hype, Little Simz is this year’s critical darling and on everyone’s best list for a reason. “Sometimes I Might Be Introvert” is a 2021 must-listen.
Lingua Ignota - SINNER GET READY
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#1: Lingua Ignota - Sinner Get Ready

What the fuck, Fantano? You stole my opinion!

Jokes aside, while there was a lot of competition for this year, including two other 10’s, there really wasn’t going to be any other album at #1 besides Lingua Ignota’s “Sinner Get Ready”. For one thing, this isn’t any other album that came out this year that felt so singular - while the influences are clear, there is nothing that sounds like “Sinner Get Ready”. I also loved the ambitious concept that Kristen somehow pulled off; making a noisy, visceral, terrifying album with mostly just acoustic folk instrumentation. But I already talked about that in my review, everyone should already know how brilliant Lingua Ignota is at this point. The big reason why this album stuck with me is how I personally connected with it. Don’t worry, I won’t go into details, and I haven’t gone through the exact same things she has - religion has never played a part in my life and I’ve never been abused by a romantic partner nor to the degree she has. But I have been abused, and I have a complicated relationship with my upbringing, and I’ve just experienced a lot of trauma in general. And I know that sometimes healing can be almost as painful as what originally happened. And I know what it’s like to find yourself back in another terrible situation after barely escaping the one before. And I know that sometimes it can convince you that this is what life is always going to be like for you or that you deserve what’s happening. It’s been a terrible two years for all of us, they have taken so much. But if Kristin can survive, so can you. And in the fairly unlikely chance she’s reading this - I know you meant it as a acceptance of defeat, but believe me when I say that you deserve boundless love and paradise will be yours, Kristin. Thank you Lingua Ignota for everything that you do as an advocate and an artist, and thank you for making “Sinner Get Ready”, the best album of 2021.
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3mo
@TomBejoy TomBeAlwaysBased
3mo
based injury reserve backxwash and brockhampton 😎
4mo
It's awesome to see you delve in such depth into these incredible albums! Little Simz and Black Country, New Road albums were my top. I actually didn't rate the Bo Burnham work because I struggled to distuingish the music from the overall project. I just couldn't find a way to rate it fairly but it definitely deserves all the praise.
4mo
@AndreManfre93 thank you for reading!
4mo
Again, great list!! :)
4mo
@fucktobymaguire @ibrokemylefttoe @fluffypants_52 thank you all so much!
4mo
amazing list man
sure i dont have to say it but really love reading ur thoughts on these
keep at it!
4mo
incredible, honestly
4mo
This is a fantastic list! You summed up my thoughts on "MONTERO" perfectly. I definitely would've also included Peggy and Tyler, but then again I mostly listen to Hip-Hop.
4mo
@Ra1995 thank you so much! Glad to see you enjoyed those albums too! I’ll give your list a read right now!
4mo
@brinatti instant classic
4mo
sometimes I bright be introvert aoty
4mo
@BaddieBaphomet I admire your passion for the albums that you picked and I can understand why you enjoyed these projects. It's a nice list with relevant and helpful explanations.
Also, we both have the - Sleigh Bells, Genesis Owusu, Brockhampton, BCNR and Lingua Ignota - LPs in the green area (70, 70+). Please feel free to check out my list (which is almost finished, though some grades may not be definitive). Of course, only if you want to : https://www.albumoftheyear.org/user/ra1995/list/55648/2021-albums-highlights-my-top-50/
4mo
@apotofstu thank you so much!
4mo
great picks all around here, love this list!!
4mo
@Hom1803 yessssss it’s so good. Thank you!
4mo
@AugustYours THANK
4mo
CORRECT
4mo
Nice list. Having ROADRUNNER that high is a massive W
4mo
@Cry @Jamobo @CyberCrasher_TV @humm1ng_b1rd thank you all so much!
4mo
Great list! :)
4mo
Great list!!
4mo
This list was good
4mo
Very good picks :)
5mo
@DL Verdict I’m glad you liked the read! And YESSSSSSS she’s so incredibly brilliant
5mo
Awesome list!! I love your insightful descriptions of each album. We share many similar picks - plus Lingua my AOTY too :)

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