Favorite Albums of 2021
Top 10 Albums of 2021
How Long Do You Think It’s Gonna Last - Big Red Machine
An album I loved so much I wrote a whole essay about it. It’s about life and loss, collaboration and isolation. Aaron Dessner has had a productive quarantine and it’s great to see an album he an put all his ideas into (and somehow hold it all together).
Hit or Miss - Alexander Biggs
I discovered Biggs’s music early in the quarantine (March/April 2020?) and anxiously awaited his new full album that arrived early 2021. This album, strangely, felt like a soundtrack not only to this current moment but to my life — there are songs in here, hearing them for the first time, that took me back to specific memories over the last 5, 10, even 15 years. A deeply personal album that very quickly came to mean a lot to me.
Mirror II - The Goon Sax
The Goon Sax is one of those bands that feels like it exists just for me, hitting the sweet-spot of my musical tastes: part post-punk that is both brooding and danceable.
Sour - Olivia Rodrigo
A near-perfect pop-breakup album that is both incredibly specific and universal. I listened this to walking through the streets on New York this summer and couldn’t help smiling.
Siblings - Alex Somers
Somers, the former partner of Sigur Ros frontman Jonsi, has been making ambient music of his own for the better part of a decade (His collaboration with Jonsi, Riceboy Sleeps, is a favorite) and this debut, two-part album accompanied me on many early morning writing sessions this year.
Disappearing - Low
Low is one of my all-time favorite bands and I’m continually impressed with how, even after nearly thirty years, they continue to innovate. Droning instrumentation accompanies the deep vocals here for a perfect winter album.
New Long Leg - Dry Cleaning
This debut album from Dry Cleaning, an English post-punk band, is filled with non-sensical lyrics, droll vocals, and fantastical imagery. It’s propulsive and choppy, droning and forceful.
As The Love Continues - Mogwai
I’ve loved Mogwai for years and like Low, above, I admire bands that continue to push themselves into new directions. Through the early winter and spring, I found myself listening to this one on repeat.
REBORN - Akinyemi
Surprisingly, this is the only rap album to make my top ten list. The debut album from Akinyemi, a Queens-based rapper, is emotional, raw, and ambient: just how I like my rap.
if i could make it go quiet - girl in red
An incredible album of teenage angst, fury, and love. This is an album to play loud, driving with the windows down all summer long.
- A Way Forward - Nation of Language
- Cry Forever - Amy Shark
- Dreams Still Inspire - Abstract Mindstate
- DONDA - Kanye West
- Siamese Dream - Fruit Bats
- A Beginner’s Mind - Sufjan Stevens and Angelo De Augustine
- This is What It Feels Like - Gracie Abrams
- Promises - Floating Points, Pharaoh Sanders, London Symphony Orchestra
A (very long) playlist
As I do every year, I keep a running, open playlist where I add all my favorite new songs as they release. As of this writing, 2021’s playlist is 112 songs and just over seven hours. Put it on shuffle and let it go all day for a nice collection of songs from this year I kept coming back to:
I also keep monthly music diaries on Spotify that you can view on my profile for shorter playlists of the songs I listened to each month.
- According to my Spotify Wrapped, my most-listened genre was “ambient” and I can’t figure out if that surprises me or not. I’ve listened to ambient music for well over a decade and it’s my go-to early morning and late night work soundtrack. What’s unfortunate, however, is I only listen to ambient when I’m working, when my mind is distracted, so very few of those albums make it to my year-end lists. I want to remedy this next year and really listen to this music I’ve loved for so long.
- Three bands/artists who I have loved in the past released albums this year that I was really looking forward to: Bleachers, Lorde, and St. Vincent. Despite trying, I could not get into any of their new albums, finding them repetitive and mostly forgettable.
- Alexander Biggs, who released my second favorite album of the year, could easily replace Big Red Machine as top album depending on my mood. His album and BRM’s were on repeat this year. Biggs, a new-to-me artist, wrote an album that felt like it captured my mind state this year perfectly.
- Two other new-to-me artists released albums this year — The Goon Sax and Nation of Language — that feel like the sweet spot of my musical taste: sad, post-punkish droning tracks that highly danceable. I loved finding these two bands this year.
- A few albums worth mentioning from my Honorable Mentions: I loved Siamese Dream by Fruit Bats, an album of covers from the Smashing Pumpkins’s album of the same name. I didn’t want to include a covers album in my top ten but I listened to this one A LOT. Kanye’s DONDA was a mixed bag (and I know he’s problematic these days) — when he’s good, he’s really good (Jail, Hurricane, Lord I Need You) but the album is too long and meandering. Speaking of West, I very much enjoyed the new album from Abstract Mindstate, a West-produced collection that’s also the debut album from YZY Music, Kanye’s new label. It’s a fun one.
- One “album” not included here because it pushes the limits of what an album is these days is Bo Burnham’s Netflix special “Inside.” I’ve watched the special multiple times and listened to the accompanying soundtrack dozens of times. I think it’s a masterpiece of musical comedy that blends satire and emotion, while capturing the feelings of being alive in 2021. It was one of my favorite cultural moments of the last year.