Much of the world continued to feel completely upside down throughout 2021, and many musicians and groups (especially less financially secure ones) continued to face unprecedented threats to their livelihoods and their artistic outlets. In spite of this huge adversity, the artists below somehow managed to keep producing albums of the absolute highest quality. These records are remarkable accomplishments given the circumstances, and I, for one, am grateful to each and every artist for perservering and putting their incredible work out this year. They gave listeners entire worlds to lose ourselves in, helping alleviate our own difficult cirucumstances in a challenging year.
Every single one of the albums listed across the next two pages are worth checking out, listening to in full, and treasuring forever. I hope that you enjoy exploring any that you haven’t encountered before and returning to those that you already cherish.
WARNING: All albums, tracks, and their accompanying videos are completely uncensored. A number of them contain explicit language that is unsuitable for children, NSFW topics and images, discussions of potentially triggering subjects, and/or political commentary that may offend.
1 – 10: My Absolute Favourite Albums of the Year
1. Little Simz – Sometimes I Might Be Introvert (Rap, Age 101 Music)
TBoK said: “2021 was the year that the wider music world FINALLY seemed to wake up to Little Simz’s greatness. Sometimes I Might Be Introvert gave them no choice, really. It’s a perfect rap album where colossal artistic ambition and the highly creative ideas that flow from it are executed flawlessly.”
Standout tracks: Introvert, I Love You, I Hate You
For fans of: Late Registration-era Kanye West, Dave, Noname
Read more: Albums of the month: September 2021
2. Japanese Breakfast – Jubilee (Indie Rock, Dead Oceans)
TBoK said: “Zauner has confidently taken the next step in Japanese Breakfast’s artistic and commercial development… combining a much grander sense of scale, further experimentation with unfamiliar sounds, and more immediate songwriting to create a bigger and bolder sound compared to any previous release.”
Standout tracks: Be Sweet, Kokomo, IN
For fans of: Wilco, Bon Iver, Car Seat Headrest, Hop Along
Read more: Albums of the Month: June 2021
3. The Armed – Ultrapop (Hardcore/Noise Rock, Sargent House)
TBoK said: “In both its musical and lyrical content, then, Ultrapop is a fascinating exploration of what it means to be true to oneself, no matter how those around you perceive your motives. More than that, it’s a completely engrossing forty minutes of music… The songs here are some of the most exciting and melodically engaging that I’ve heard in any hardcore-adjacent album since At the Drive-In’s Relationship of Command or Desaparecidos’ Read Music/Speak Spanish.”
Standout tracks: AN ITERATION, ALL FUTURES
For fans of: Fucked Up, At The Drive-In
Read more: Albums of the Month: April
4. Arooj Aftab – Vulture Prince (Chamber Folk/Classical, New Amsterdam)
TBoK said: “Vulture Prince‘s enthralling mix of both Hindustani and Western classical music, jazz, folk, ambient, and even reggae comes with an astonishing attention to detail – subtle flourishes and harmonies briefly transform delicate compositions before disappearing almost as quickly as they arrived. This is the most beautiful sounding album of 2021.”
Standout tracks: Inayaat, Mohabbat
For fans of: Joanna Newsome, Julia Holter
Read more: Albums of the Month: April
5. NYX & Gazelle Twin – Deep England (Electronic/Experimental, NYX Collective Records)
TBoK said: “Deep England… is not just an exceptional record, but also an incredibly important one, a superb example of the culturally electrifying potential of art when it documents and eviscerates its surroundings in the hope that it might lead to a change for the better.”
Standout tracks: Better In My Day, Golden Dawn
Read more: Albums of the Month: March 2021
6. Topaz Jones – Don’t Go Tellin’ Your Momma (Rap/Hip-Hop, New Funk Academy)
TBoK said: “Don’t Go Tellin’ Your Momma‘s colourful blend of funk, hip-hop, and R&B make it one of the year’s most entertaining romps, offering one irresistible highlight after another.”
Standout tracks: Black Tame, Blue
For fans of: Anderson .Paak & The Free Nationals, Genesis Owusu
7. For Those I Love – For Those I Love (Dance/Electronic, SEPTEMBER RECORDINGS LTD.)
TBoK said: “For Those I Love’s self-titled debut album finds David Balfe laying bare the grieving process for his late friend and bandmate in a heartbreaking yet undeniably compelling manner… The best dance record of the year.”
Standout tracks: You Stayed/To Live, Birthday/The Pain
For fans of: Overmono, The Streets
Read more: The 2021 Hyundai Mercury Prize – Who Else is in the Running?
8. McKinley Dixon – For My Mama And Anyone Who Look Like Her (Rap/Jazz, Spacebomb)
TBoK said: “Few albums had as many compelling stories to tell as For My Mama And Anyone Who Look Like Her …. Even fewer had as virtuosic a storyteller as McKinley Dixon, who seamlessly tailored the affecting, unforgettable accounts to lush jazz and funk with incredible finesse.”
Standout tracks: Bless The Child, make a poet Black
For fans of: Kendrick Lamar, Saba
9. Mega Bog – Life, And Another (Indie Rock, Paradise of Bachelors)
TBoK said: “On Life, And Another Mega Bog mastermind Erin Birgy invigorates her melodic indie rock with unconventional influences, unexpected left turns, and dense lyrical world-building.”
Standout tracks: Station to Station, Weight of the Earth, on Paper
For fans of: Big Thief, “Blue” Gene Tyranny, David Bowie
Read more: Albums of the Month: July 2021
10. Norvik – The Drawing Board II (Ambiet/Modern Classical, Norvik Music)
TBoK said: “A breathtaking record… that relies solely on the interplay between two hands and the creativity of the mind directing them in order to work magic.”
Standout tracks: City, Books
For fans of: Joe Hisaishi, Balmorhea
Read more: Albums of the Month: January 2021
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More 2021 Albums
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