Great albums kept coming thick and fast throughout August 2021, including some new faces (or at least ones that I previously wasn’t acquainted with) and unexpected returns to form by old favourites. Here are some of the very best.
WARNING: All albums and their accompanying videos are completely uncensored. A number of them contain bad language that is unsuitable for children, NSFW topics and images, and/or political commentary that may offend or disturb some.
Album of the Month
1. Tinashe – 333 (R&B/Pop, Tinashe Music Inc., under exclusive license to Equity Distribution)
The Skinny: 333 is the best R&B album I’ve heard this year so far by a considerable distance. It’s a slick, pop-infused effort packed with hooks, so much so that more than half the tracks sound like they could be monster chart-topping singles. At the same time, there’s a huge number of great musical ideas on display here. Brief, scattershot interludes grab the listener’s attention before disappearing almost as quickly as they arrived, and the likes of Unconditional feature two shorter, distinct songs spliced into one very enjoyable track. 333 is not perfect, and will likely be held back from being a real Album of the Year contender by a pair of unnecessary tracks. Regardless of that minor blip, no other album in August had as many soaring highs or unexpectedly brilliant turns as this one, so make sure you enjoy them!
Standout tracks: Pasadena, The Chase, Bouncin
For fans of: Chloe x Halle, The Weeknd, Arianna Grande
2. Tanya Morgan – Don & Von (Hip-Hop, HiPNOTT Records)
The Skinny: Brooklyn/Cincinnati rap veterans Tanya Morgan deliver an absolutely brilliant record that feels like a time-capsule delivered straight to us from the 1990s/early 2000s golden age for East Coast Hip-Hop. Mostly Don & Von thrives on a winning old-skool, feel-good style of hip-hop that’s built on punchy mid-tempo beats, melodic jazz samples, and skilful wordplay. It’s not a record completely divorced from contemporary reality: Tanya In The Sky With Diamonds marks a brilliant moment of more modern-sounding musical experimentation with its chopped vocal samples, and Fresh Lemonade masterfully crafts a narrative of racist profiling that is unfortunately still as relevant in 2021 as it would have been in earlier eras.
Standout tracks: Tanya In The Sky With Diamonds, Fresh Lemonade
For fans of: Talib Kweli, Little Brother, A Tribe Called Quest
3. Halsey – If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power (Alternative/Pop, Capitol Records)
The Skinny: I haven’t connected with any of Halsey’s previous work, but If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power is an absolutely captivating effort. They’ve recruited Nine Inch Nails founder Trent Reznor and more recent member Atticus Ross on production and co-writing duties, a move which appears to have allowed them to incorporate alternative trends in both electronic and rock music. Through the sonic flourishes that Reznor and Ross can provide (often recalling various stages of the industrial rock legends’ career) Halsey is able to create a formidable and varied sound, be it the haunting, dramatic piano arpeggios of opener The Tradition, the ragged thrash of Easier Than Lying, or the jittery, hyperactive synths of stellar highlight Girl Is A Gun. But this is clearly Halsey’s artistic vision above anyone else’s, with these experimental and dissonant components crafted into some of the most engaging and accessible tracks of the year. If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power stands testament to a very successful collaborative effort between artists you wouldn’t immediately link on paper, one that I would be very happy to hear more of should they wish to continue working together.
Standout tracks: Girl Is A Gun, You Asked For This
For fans of: Nine Inch Nails, Poppy, Paramore
4. The Killers – Pressure Machine (Rock, Island Records)
The Skinny: Wow. Out of nowhere 2000s indie rockers The Killers have produced arguably the best album of their careers. There’s no denying the considerable stylistic debt owed to Bruce Springsteen and U2 in particular (as well as Joy Division and New Order at points). Crucially, however, all four members of the band absolutely commit and lean in to that sound. That conviction in their performance, combined with the band’s strongest set of songs in over a decade and Brandon Flowers’ poignant exploration of tragedy in small-town America, make Pressure Machine one of the most unexpected triumphs of the year.
Standout tracks: In the Car Outside, Pressure Machine
For fans of: Bruce Springsteen, U2
5. Indigo De Souza – Any Shape You Take (Indie Rock/Alternative, Saddle Creek)
The Skinny: Any Shape You Take is a perfect indie rock album for dark times like late 2021. It navigates a few fleeting-but-enrapturing moments of pure elation amidst many more of utter devastation, delivering one emotionally raw gut-punch after another in both its lyrics and music. Most important of all, both the light and the shade found in this record are well-represented by lead singles Hold U and Kill Me, which are surely two genuine contenders for Single of the Year.
Standout tracks: Kill Me, Hold U
For fans of: Car Seat Headrest, Mitski, Smashing Pumpkins, PJ Harvey, Wolf Alice
6. El Michels Affair meets Liam Bailey – Ekundayo Inversions (Reggae, Big Crown Records)
The Skinny: El Michaels Affair mastermind Leon Michels has reworked Nottingham-born artist Liam Bailey’s album Ekundayo (which he also produced) into new forms through the traditional “dub” process (or at least something attempting it). The result is one of the most enjoyable reggae albums of the year that’s filled with gorgeous melodies and chord progressions as well as impeccable production and instrumentation choices. There’s even a now-touching guest appearance from reggae and dub pioneer Lee “Scratch” Perry, who sadly passed away last month, on Ugly Truth. Help your summer last just that little bit longer with this fantastic album.
Standout tracks: Angel Face, Ugly Truths
For fans of: Lee “Scratch” Perry
7. Laura Stevenson – Laura Stevenson (Singer-Songwriter/Indie Rock, Don Giovanni Records)
The Skinny: For her sixth solo album Laura Stevenson has stepped up to the plate to deliver an album that’s worthy of being her self-titled release. Though nominally a singer-songwriter release, Stevenson crafts a hugely appealing style that builds upon the confessional potential of that genre with melancholy arena rock (Don’t Think About Me), lo-fi indie fuzz (State and Sandstorm), and alt-country (Wretch and Sky Blue, Bad News). It’s the kind of album that fans of Sharon Van Etten’s cult classic Tramp should adore. In spite of the hugely enjoyable variety found throughout Laura Stevenson, ultimately the absolute highlights are the moments where Stevenson strips the sound back to little more than her voice and guitar (Moving Cars and After Those Who Mean It). In both tracks the plaintive quality of her words, melodies, and delivery creates true show-stoppers.
Standout tracks: Don’t Think About Me, After Those Who Mean It
For fans of: Sharon Van Etten, The National
8. Lang Lee – There Is a Wolf (Folk/Singer-Songwriter, Your Summer)
The Skinny: The multi-talented artist Lang Lee continues to develop her rich folk sound on third album There is a Wolf. The record is sung entirely in Korean, but listeners more used to only listening to English-language releases should not be deterred: its many beautiful chord progressions and melodies ought to appeal to fans of more ‘Western’ folk and singer-songwriter music (listen to I’m All Ears For You for a great example). Closer The Generation of Tribulation (Choir Version) in particular is a thing of wonder. It’s one of a pair of brilliant tracks that bookend the album with celebratory appearances by the Unnie Choir, and its ascending chord progression continuously gains momentum through the gradual building up of new instruments and vocal lines until it breaks out into an explosion of communal energy and joy.
Standout tracks: The Generation of Tribulation (Choir Version), I’m All Ears For You
For fans of: Ichiko Aoba, Grimm Grimm
9. Equiknoxx – Basic Tools Mixtape (Dancehall/Electronic, Equiknoxx Music)
The Skinny: Dancehall-inspired music is increasingly featuring in both US and UK charts, though earlier artists and long-term fans of the genre have justifiably argued that it’s mostly a fairly bland and/or appropriated version that has had the most success. Jamaican collective Equiknoxx specialise in more innovative dancehall, and, aside from the breezy Basic Tools Live @ DJ Krush, few of the tracks here could be described as ‘conventional.’ The creeping beats and spooky verses of Mp Five and Thingamajigama or the stuttering electric piano of Was Not Initially Called Make It Stop are much more representative of the mixtape as a whole. Nevertheless, the initial sense of intrigue created by these pleasingly weird experiments soon turns to enthrallment, and at a lean twenty-five minutes (if you remove the instrumental versions of exactly the same tracks) Basic Tools… qualifies asone of the most entertaining mixtapes of recent months.
Standout tracks: Mp Five, Basic Tools Live @ DJ Krush
For fans of: EI honestly have no idea, this is entirely new for me!
10. Boldy James & The Alchemist – Bo Jackson (Rap, ALC / Boldy James)
The Skinny: The co-authors of the very best rap album of 2020 reunite to create another exceptional record in 2021. This time The Alchemist brings even smoother beats and glossy samples to the table (Turpentine and EPMD, for example, sound utterly sublime), whilst Boldy James continues to mesmerise listeners with his gritty tales of Detroit’s drug rings in his compellingly languid flow.
Standout tracks: Turpentine, EPMD
For fans of: Freddie Gibbs, Navy Blue, Armand Hammer
11. Ka – A Martyr’s Reward (Rap)
12. Turnstile – Glow On (Hardcore/Punk)
13. Wednesday – Twin Plagues (Indie Rock)
14. Deafheaven – Infinite Granite (Shoegaze/Rock)
15. Brandee Younger – Somewhere Different (Jazz)
16. Nite Jewel – No Sun (Electronic)
17. Camila Moreno – Rey (Alternative)
18. Orla Gartland – Woman on the Internet (Singer-Songwriter) 17. NTsKI – Orca (Electronic)
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