Friday, December 31, 2021

Best Albums of 2021

According to my admittedly sloppy records, I listened to 435 albums that were released in 2021. Here is my list. First my top 5, then the next 25, then the next 50, and as a bonus, my top ten EPs. Each category is internally organized alphabetically. I only had time to talk about the first five, but it was a great year for music (though again, when isn't it?). 

Best Albums 2021

Top Five

1.Art D’Ecco—In Standard Definition

A glam rock and pop album from another time. Conceptually it is obsessed with celebrity, and also concerned with celebrity obsession. Sure, the influences are pretty obvious, but when you are doing your best to channel early Roxy Music and 70s Bowie, that might not be so bad. And sure, it doesn’t hit those immortal highs, but I found myself wanting to groove along from start to finish.

2.Midnight Sister—Painting the Roses

Why just do one glam pop album? If Art D’Ecco wants to channel Roxy Music and Bowie, Midnight Sister is more T. Rex and Donna Summers, trying to give us some sort of glitter disco cabaret. And sure, it doesn’t always do that, but I found myself seduced by their vision and enthusiasm. Also, I don’t know much about music videos, but they direct their own music videos, and I really suggest watching them. It’s a different way to see the surrealistic soundscape they are seeking to create.

3. Shungudzo—I Am Not a Mother, But I Have Children

Okay, this is clearly trying to produce a protest album. And has gotten some criticism for being too on the nose, too try hard. Which… sure. But sonically something is often working against the lyrics, winking subtly at the audience. I found myself caring less about the obviousness, and more often being impressed by the sheer audacity of the thing. Not to mention so many of the songs are dangerously catchy.

4. St. Vincent—Daddy’s Home

I said on facebook that it was weird to choose this album to begin the inevitable St. Vincent backlash, because the whole thing is so good. It is a self-aware attempt to both change her sound, and try to maybe undermine her reputation as aloof while, you know, trying to actually cement that reputation. Okay, let’s backup. I was lukewarm when it was released. But I found myself listening to it again and again, liking it more and more. And well, here we are. The album, for the five of you who haven’t listened to it, is trying to reproduce a kind of 70s New York grimy sound (kind of like Nick Cave attempts on Dig, Lazarus, Dig!!!). But of course this meets St. Vincent’s trade mark precision and careful production values. I think that is why we have an artifact that doesn’t fully work on the first listen, but really captivated me by the end. 

5. Sarah Mary Chadwick—Me and Ennui are Friends, Baby.

This was a year in which many of the women musicians who wrote personal and haunting lyrics of my teenage years released albums. Including new work by Ani DiFranco, Tori Amos, Aimee Mann, and Liz Phair. None of them were bad, but something was missing. Maybe they had changed, or I had, or probably both. But then I listened to this album by Sarah Mary Chadwick, and it captured a bit of that old feeling. It probably helps that Chadwick is close to my current age. Before I go further, I should say this album needs basically every kind of content warning, dealing with depression, death, suicide, drug and alcohol abuse, and lots of explicit lyrics. But it’s deeply confessional, and clever, and sad, and I listened to the whole thing with my eyes extra big. If you want 42 minutes of heartbreak and brilliance, you should give this a try. 

Next 25

Amyl and The Sniffers—Comfort to Me

Amythyst Kiah—Wary + Strange

Arca—Kick ii-iiiii

Cassandra Jenkins--An Overview on Phenomenal Nature

Charley  Crockett—Music City USA

Clever Girls—Constellations

The Coral—Coral Island

Curtis Harding—If Words Were Flowers

Death From Above 1979—Is 4 Lovers

Dominique Fils-Aime—Three Little Words

Faye Webster—I Know I’m Funny haha

Jupiter & Okwess—Na Kozonga 

Lael Neale—Acquainted With Night

Lingua Ignota—Sinner Get Ready

Lord Huron—Long Lost

Melissa Carper—Daddy’s Country Gold

Mon Laferte--SEIS

Nancy—The Seven Foot Tall Post-Suicide Feel Good Blues

Nick Cave & Warren Ellis—Carnage

Nick Shoulders—Home on the Rage

No-No Boy—1975 

Shannon & The Clams—Year of the Spider

Tele Novella—Merlynn Belle

Valerie June—The Moon and Stars: Prescriptions for Dreamers

Viagra Boys—Welfare Jazz

Next 50

Allison Russell—Outside Child

Anna B. Savage—A Common Turn

Arlo Parks—Collapsed in Sunbeams

Billie Eilish—Happier Than Ever

Black Country, New Road—For the First Time

Black Midi—Calvacade

Claire Rousay—A Softer Focus

Clio—L’amour Hélas

The Courettes—Back in Mono

Daniel Knox—Won’t You Take Me With You

Deap Vally—Marriage 

Field Music—Flat White Moon

Gary Louris—Jump for Joy

Haiku Salut—The Hill, the Light, the Ghost

Hamish Hawk—Heavy Elevator


Illuminati Hotties—Let Me Do One More

Jack Ingram, Miranda Lambert, & John Randall—The Marfa Tapes

Jarvis Cocker—Chansons d’Eunni Tip-Top

Joy Crookes—Skin 

John Hiatt & Jerry Douglas—Leftover Feelings

Jungle—Loving in Stereo

La Luz—La Luz

Lana Del Rey—Blue Bannisters 

Le Ren—Leftovers 

Lil Nas X—Montero 

Little Simz--Sometimes I Might Be Introvert

Matthew E. White—K Bay

Maxwell Farrington & Le SuperHomard—Once 

Mdou Moctar—Afrique Victime 

Monophonics & Kelly Finnigan—It’s Only Us 

Nick Waterhouse—Promenade Blues

Night Beats—Outlaw R&B

Parquet Courts—Sympathy for Life

The Peacers—Blexxed Rec

Pearl Charles—Magic Mirror

Pokey LaFarge—In the Blossom of Their Shade

Pom Pom Squad—Death of a Cheerleader

Riddy Arman—Riddy Arman

Riley Downing—Start It Over


She Drew the Gun—Behave Myself

Sierra Ferrell—Long Time Coming

Tamar Aphek—All Bets Are Off


Vincent Neil Emerson—Vincent Neil Emerson

The War on Drugs—I Don’t Live Here Anymore

William Doyle—Great Spans of Muddy Time

Willie Nelson—The Willie Nelson Family

Yola—Stand for Myself

Top Ten EPs

Ber--I'm Not In Love

Billy Nomates--Emergency Telephone

Blood Red Shoes--Ø 

Car Seat Headrest--Madlo

Dessa--I Already Like You

Gabriels--Bloodlines/Love and Hate in a Different Time

Molly Lewis--The Forgotten Edge

Near Tears--Get With the Program

Olivia Jean--Palladium 

Pixey--Free to Live in Colour