With 2021 coming to an end, what better way to wrap it up than by reading this list of the top 10 albums to come out of it? I can’t think of a better way, and if you can; let me know. I had a lot of mixed emotions about 2021 due to it following a similar series of events as 2020 - essentially being 2020 pt. II - and it made the year hard to describe. Typically, when I reflected about the year, I liked to focus on all the artists who made this list tough to create. I also enjoyed relating particular albums to whatever season it came out in. An example of this would be Aaron Frazer’s album Introducing… which saw its release on January 8th. For the life of me, that album will always have the easy-listening vibes that sum up post-holiday feelings, and blues about the start of the new year. I couldn’t imagine placing that album in the Summer, alongside releases like Japanese Breakfast's sensational album Jubilee. With that being said; this list was the most difficult I had ever had to work on, and I felt it necessary to shout out some artists that I wasn’t able to include onto it. Streaming now on Apple Music, please listen to; Aaron Frazer’s album Introducing…, Glitterer’s album Life Is Not a Lesson, Junior Kimbrough’s release Introducing Junior Kimbrough, Art d’Ecco’s second album In Standard Definition, Dinosaur Jr.’s album Sweep It Into Space, Sematary’s Rainbow Bridge 3, The Black Keys’ Delta Kream, We Were Sharks’ album New Low, Royal Canoe’s album Sidelining, Wavves’ album Hideaway, Little Hag’s album Leash, Hayden Pedigo’s Letting Go, Webbed Wing’s album What’s So Fucking Funny?, and Driftwalker’s first album I Am Alive. Thank you for an incredible year, and now lets get on with the list.
10. Bo Burnham - INSIDE (The Songs)
At first, I wasn’t sure if I should count Bo Burnham’s release Inside (The Songs) on this list because it’s basically just the soundtrack to his movie on Netflix. Nonetheless, once it hit music streaming services on June 10th, I found myself singing every song, and learning every lyric. To me, these melancholy and standalone songs somehow sounded happier in nature when they were set apart from the visuals of the Netflix special. For instance, the opening track “Content” began sounding upbeat and happy, whereas during the song’s performance; we see Burnham performing the track while sitting on a stool. It was also incredibly difficult to pick just a few songs off Inside that best represented it, because each track led into one another wonderfully. From the Jeffery Bezos tracks “Bezos I,” and “Bezos II,” to “30,” and “All Eyes On Me” Burnham told about the wonderfully cruel parts of life, and what makes everything so horrible.
9. Oscar Scheller - Boys Cry
Released on February 19th via Handle With Care, Oscar Scheller’s sophomore album Boys Cry was a defiant cry against toxic masculinity. Appropriately named as such, Boys Cry began with the tracks “2D” and “Half Eaten” where he expressed his feelings of being flat, or half a person. The sample used at the end of “2D,” “What you did really fucking hurt, nobody knows what it’s like to be me” pulled one of the biggest punches on this album because it rang absolutely true. Nobody knows what it's like to be someone else, or what they go through on a day to day basis. Therefore everyone lives in their own glass house and should never throw stones. Other notable tracks on this album were “Famous Enough to Die,” “Peach,” “Hollywood Sign,” “I’m Enough,” “Boys Cry,” and “Happy Nowhere.” I particularly enjoyed the lyrics to the chorus of “Happy Nowhere,” in which Scheller sang, “And I don’t know where its going, somewhere in the middle of nowhere. I kind of like it there, I guess I’m happy there.” To me, these lyrics represented Scheller stating that no matter where he ends up, he’ll always carry the weight of others’ judgement.
8. Manchester Orchestra - The Million Masks of God
I had no idea to approach The Million Masks of God by the indie heavyweight band Manchester Orchestra. Honestly, I still felt like this brief review only does a tremendous disservice to how magnificent this album really was. Filled with a wide vary of emotions, tones, and rhythmic balance, the members; Andy Hull performing vocals, guitars, keyboards, percussion, production, and engineering, Robert McDowell playing guitar, keyboards, programming, and production, Tim Very on drums and percussion, and Andy Prince performing bass, knew exactly what they had in mind when creating this masterpiece. Released on April 30th via Loma Vista, The Million Masks of God began with the tracks “Inaudible,” “Angel of Death,” and “Keel Timing.” To me, “Bed Head” really stood out on this album because it sounded like it belonged on their previous album A Black Mile to the Surface. Other tracks on the album like, “Annie,” “Telepath,” “Let It Storm,” “Dinosaur,” and “Obstacle” felt very fluid and rolled into one another almost seamlessly. The band’s approach to create this release as a “movie album” was felt within the closing tracks “Way Back,” and “The Internet.” While these songs both had a gentle approach to their sound, “The Internet” packed a huge punch with its guitar work. Overall this album was absolutely tremendous to listen to, and I implore everyone to stream it as soon as possible.
7. Cloud Nothings - The Shadow I Remember
The seventh studio album, The Shadow I Remember by Cleveland, Ohio based indie band, Cloud Nothings was marvelous to hear. Not only was this album’s rainy artwork enticing, but the band’s sound reminded me of a harder, or more punk sounding Belle and Sebastian. The band consisted of members; Dylan Baldi on lead vocals, backing vocals, and rhythm guitar, Chris Brown on lead guitar, keyboards, and backing vocals, TJ Duke on bass and backing vocals, and Jayson Gerycz on drums. Released through Carpark Records on October 13th, The Shadow I Remember began with the track “Oslo” in which a faded guitar played alongside this awesome riff from the keyboard. The lyrics in the chorus, “Am I older now, or am I just another age? Am I at the end or will there be another change? Am I older now or am I just another age? Am I at the end or will there be another change?” felt very real due to this album being created during the 2020 pandemic. Moreover, I felt like these questions sang by Baldi could be applicable throughout life as we each go through it. I’m sure a lot of people resonated with those questions, or apprehensive feelings of change. Other songs on this album included “Nothing Without You,” “The Spirit Of,” “Only Light,” “Nara,” “Open Rain,” “Sound of Alarm,” and “Am I Something.” At which point on the album, Baldi questioned himself and his own intentions by singing, “Am I something? Do you see me? Does anybody living out there really need me?” To end the track he yelled the lyrics, “Am I something good? Am I something good? Am I something good? Or just an unremarkable?” The album ended with the songs “It’s Love,” “A Longer Moon,” and “The Room It Was.” I particularly enjoyed the track “The Room It Was” due to Baldi’s description of being haunted by the past, this “Shadow, the shadow I remember.”
6. Midnight Sister - Painting the Roses
Midnight Sister is a lot. Their second album Painting the Roses was released on January 15th via Jagjaguwar and was also a lot. That being said, this was one of the greatest releases to come out of 2021 due to it being “a lot.” The Los Angeles based duo of Juliana Giraffe and Ari Balouzian created something legitimately unique and mesmerizing with this album. Not only were songs like “Doctor Says,” “Satellite,” “Foxes,” “Escalators,” and “Dearly Departed” enticing, but they also held the listener with a vice grip. The haunting manner in which Giraffe sang “Man, you have changed” in “Doctor Says,” and “We’ll I’m sorry my dude” during “Satellite” was thrilling to hear. Other songs on this album included “Tomorrowland,” “My Elevator Song,” “Wednesday Baby,” “Limousine,” “Song for the Trees,” and “Painting the Roses.” Each track was mastered beautifully, and their artistic style of fashion and design was something that made me keep coming back to it.
5. Shannon and the Clams - Year of the Spider
Straight out of Oakland, California, the indie quartet, Shannon and the Clams, has never ceased to amaze me with their music. Consisting of Shannon Shaw on vocals and bass, Cody Blanchard on vocals and guitar, Nate Mahan performing drums, and Will Sprott on vocals and keyboards, this band consistently puts out hit after hit. Their last album Onion was released in 2018 to fantastic reviews, so their latest album Year of the Spider had a lot to live up to. Thankfully, Year of the Spider far surpassed everyone’s expectations of it. The album began with the eerie introduction “Do I Wanna Stay.” In this song, Shaw sang about how she’s torn between staying where she grew up and is, “Haunted by the days of being young?” This song led into one of my personal favorite releases on the album, “All Of My Cryin’.” During that track, Blanchard described his inner turmoil when he sang, “I did all of my cryin’, when I was a baby boy. Took all I could take, now these eyes are dry.” Moving forward, the album also included the songs, “Midnight Wine,” “I Need You Bad,” “Year Of The Spider,” “In The Hills, In the Pines,” “Godstone,” “Snakes Crawl,” “Mary, Don’t Go,” “Leaves Fall Again,” “Flowers Will Return,” “Crawl,” and “Vanishing.” Whenever I went back and listened to this album, I ended up replaying the tracks “Snakes Crawl,” and “Flowers Will Return” because not only were the songs catchy, but they reflected each other quite well. Where “Snakes Crawl” moved in a slower manner, “Flowers Will Return” ramped up the speed and promised that, “Flowers will return, if you, if you give it time.”
4. GEL - Violent Closure
I had no idea how to categorize the absolutely flawless piece that was Violent Closure by the New Jersey hardcore band GEL. It was a difficult decision to put this release as an album rather than an EP, however I think I made the right call due to the album’s sheer fucking force. Violent Closure was an absolute beat-down from the first track “XOXO” through “VIOLENT CLOSURE,” “ASUMPTION,” “BITCHMADE,” “FREAK,” and “TURBULENCE 2.0.” The final track “P.O.V.” really tied this album together nicely, and allowed the whole collection of tracks to loop together easily. GEL’s sound was very genuine and occasionally reminded me of other hardcore or power-violence bands such as, Weekend Nachos or Gulch. Together, the members of GEL; Sami, Anthony, Bobko, and Zach released something genuine with Violent Closure. If their latest single “MENTAL STATIC” was any indication for what their next album will sound like, I think we’re all in for something really extraordinary.
3. Tony Joe White - Smoke From the Chimney
Swamp rock singer and guitar player Tony Joe White released quite possibly his best posthumous record, Smoke From the Chimney on February 19th. In spite of the fact that he passed away in 2018 due to a heart attack, his soul still lives on through his music today. Also known as “Swamp Fox,” Tony Joe White was born in Louisiana and based his music around the southern-swamp blues that was around him. His latest album Smoke From the Chimney incorporated that sound throughout the album. The first track “Smoke From The Chimney” was something for listeners to settle into, whereas White grabbed listeners up by their boots on “Boot Money.” I really enjoyed that White was able to conjure up strong emotions with the tracks, “Del Rio, You’re Making Me Cry,” “Listen To Your Song,” and “Over You.” This contrasted nicely with other tracks on the album such as, “Scary Stories,” and “Bubba Jones” where White sang about specific stories. Smoke From the Chimney ended with “Someone Is Crying,” and “Billy” in which both the listener and White were mourning the end of the album. White summarized the feelings that he and the listener experienced when he sang, “We’ve been knocking around together so long. Singing them same old songs. Went out in the rain so long, I swear we’re shrinking" during the chorus of "Billy."
2. Men I Trust - Untourable Album
Men I Trust released their fifth studio album Untourable Album on August 25th, and I haven’t been able to get enough of it since. This album incorporated so much funk, rhythm, and harmony into it – that it made it hard to put it at number two on this list. Although the band incorporated more members when they’re performing on the road, this band’s core consisted of; Caron on bass and guitar, Dragos Chiriac performing on the keyboard, and Emma Proulx singing and playing guitar. Although I felt like this album began on a slow tone with “Organon,” the album really began to shine with the tracks “Oh Dove,” and “Sugar.” I wouldn’t necessarily describe this album as being upbeat, however “Sugar” could definitely be counted as such. The song immediately had me grooving and the chorus, “It goes on and on and on, and it goes on and on and on again” was very catchy. Afterwards, the band repeated this slow tone of "Organon" in “Sorbitol,” however it picked everything right back up with “Tree Among Shrubs.” Despite the fact that I was not able to name any “one” favorite track off this album, I kept returning to “Tree Among Shrubs” simply because of the far-out style of the song. Other tracks on the album included; “Before Dawn,” “Serenade of Water,” “5am Waltz,” “Always Lone,” “Ante Meridiem,” “Lifelong Song,” “Shoulders,” and “Beluga.” Overall, Untourable Album shaped me into a Men I Trust fan, and I felt like there aren’t enough good things to say about this album.
1. Turnstile - GLOW ON
I had no idea how to describe the magic that is Turnstile’s GLOW ON. Filled with a nonstop sensation that never ceased to divert the listener’s attention, GLOW ON aggressively grabbed the listener by the collar and shouted, “Are we alive?!” Consisting of; Brady Ebert on lead guitar and backing vocals, Daniel Fang on drums, percussion, MPC, and programming, Brendan Yates performing lead vocals/percussion, “Freaky” Franz Lyons performing bass, percussion, backing, lead vocals, and Pat McCrory on rhythm guitar and backing vocals – Turnstile is one of those bands that simply does not have a bad song. Suffice to say GLOW ON is no different. From the hard-hitting opening tracks like, “MYSTERY,” “BLACKOUT,” and “DON’T PLAY” to the gentler sounds of “UNDERWATER BOI,” “FLY AGAIN,” “ALIEN LOVE CALL,” and “LONELY DEZIRES,” GLOW ON had everything. I simply do not know how the band could ever top this release because it was honestly too fantastic.
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