Here are my Top 10 Albums of 2021!
Windchimes and air and and plaintive guitars and fingertips upon creaky piano keys, this atmospheric record from Texan duo Rob Lowe and Michael A. Muller is a pleasing and transportive listen. Sometimes the chords grow more ominous and dissonant, a reflection upon the chaos and uncertainty of the natural and modern world. Track "La Vagabonde" and its lilting brass takes inspiration from Greta Thunberg's journey to the United States, the title, the namesake of the vessel.
I was immediately taken by Jenkins when I first heard her music in early '21. Reminiscent of Aimee Man, Jenkins' record has wryness and "comedy-tragedy" that's both adventurous and cohesive. "Hard Drive" fuses spoken word, sprawling jazz and folk. The delicate "Crosshairs" is one of the prettier melodies and songs of the year.
It's been nearly 30 years since his debut and Nas is still on a remarkable roll ("I'm on top / And I keep rising") with these two excellent albums. The production by Hit-Boy is crisp as all get-out (each track is laid fresh and distinctive from one another), and Nas' rhymes and delivery remain blunt and surprising. On "Ugly," from Magic, a litany of societal problems swirls over a muggy spool of sound. The guest spots from Eminem, EPMD, and Lauryn Hill on the Kings Disease II record are pretty mind-blowing.
While music shouldn't all be about image, Annie Clark's blonde-wigged dip into mid-70s drag was certainly eye-catching and synonymous with this slick rock record. Her voice curdles on the dagger-sharp "Pay Your Way in Pain." Then there are beautiful, aching tunes like "Somebody Like Me" and the painterly, Bowie-esque "The Melting of the Sun." "My Baby Wants A Baby" brilliantly interpolates Sheena Easton's "Morning Train (9 to 5)" with the fears of an artist ever entering motherhood.
On this spunky and colorful electro album ("More than ever that you can imagine"), British artist Laura Mvula conquers plushy pink 80s-sounding synth soundscapes with heated, brassy and raw vocals. With thrumming, kicky dirges that suddenly break out of time signature and rhythm into splayed, widescreen choruses ("Conditional" and the masterful "Magical," for example), every track makes a splash.
Josiah Wise's shivery vocals, concrete, dry-humored lyrics, and beguiling melodies make up this bluesy-bruised tapestry. The slow but jaunty "Same Size Shoe," the gospel-esque "Malik" ("Blessed is the man who wears socks with his sandals”), and intimate "Derrick's Beard" are haunting queer love songs. The celebratory "Fellowship" closes out the record with sonorous drums.
One of the best openings of an album this year is surely the back-to-back brilliance of the stately and soaring "Paprika" and the yearning "Be Sweet" on Japanese Breakfast's third record Jubilee. Confident and vulnerable at the same time, the tunes have an air of familiarity and boldness (like on the airy electrowaves and vox synth ride of "Posing in Bondage"; and the strummy, Mac DeMarco-esque "Savage Good Boy"). Michelle Zauner's vocals and deft songwriting shine throughout.
There are continual sparkly surprises over grumbly, tumbly beats on this masterwork from Tyler, the Creator. There's the laid-back neo-soul of "WUSYANAME," the droll stomper "LUMBERJACK," and the whole lot of "MANIFESTO." But overall, to neatly categorize the songs in writing (from their thorny lyrics and choppy, jagged sounds and transitions) feels inadequate. Definitely one of the more adventurous albums in some time.
"Take me back," Channel Tres demands on slick thumper "Tunnel." On the fittingly titled, Cyclorama, Polo & Pan cycle samples and melodies with soft, crisp beats, which sound modern and retro. From its gossamer prelude ("Come") & upbeat intro ditty ("Ani Kuni") to lush, pulsating French electropop ("Attrape-reve" & "Melody"--replete with some Van McCoy "The Hustle" rhythms) to the orchestral elements on "Bilboquet (Sirba)" (jaunty flutes on fleek!) and "Requiem"--the beat and synth flipping to freeze-frame waterfalls (like dissipating fireworks). The brisk and beachy "Feel Good" is kind of the opposite of these times (tumbling pianos and optimistic vocals and lyrics) has been a staple on my mixes this year.
As a fan of Little Simz' last album GREY Area, I was looking forward to more. Throughout this year, singles were being released from the British-Nigerian rapper, and it seemed to be mounting towards a significant work. Sometimes I Might Be Introvert is a grand piece of artistry and embraces the art of the album through and through. There are lavish, symphonic, broad moments such as the album opener, "The Rapper That Came to Tea," and "Standing Ovation" to the more organic, and stripped-down: swingy banger "Point and Kill" and smooth "Two Worlds Apart." All including passionately intimate and personal lyrics and idiosyncratic delivery.