Wednesday 15 December 2021

The Top 50 Albums of 2021

The Top 50 Albums of 2020
I did another thing if you're keen on it.

Twelve years of writing these Top 50 Album articles. Twelve years! You may think it'd be effortless by now, especially considering I authored the official book on the subject, every other book is shit, I am the lone voice of the musical landscape, but nooooo. Each December that passes, I am reminded of my inadequacy as that golf-ball sized lump of stress pops out from my left shoulder. Hello, old friend.

The toughest slab of beef is that I fucking loathe music critics. All of them can go to hell. I consider these people the lowest form of music listeners except for those who listen to the critics themselves. Who calls who the authority? If you do not enjoy a certain act, is that not your problem? If anyone, literally anyone whatsoever, is fond of a particular artist, even if just the artist themselves, does that not automatically justify the music's existence? Should everyone not strive to love and consume as much music (and, indeed, art) as possible? Should we not be embarrassed by the music we dislike because it reveals a lack of capacity to meet it on its level? Aren't our true superiors those who can pick apart what makes any music appealing to others and therefore appreciate anything that brings someone else joy? Yes to whatever I just said. Hence, the individuals who believe their taste is so exceptional that they publicly berate the subjective creativity of musicians are the same individuals who lick their fingers following a masturbation session. Every single music critic who isn't myself does that without fail. Call me old fashioned, but I do not favour such behaviour.

Unfortunately, my system was too strong, and it overpowered me again. I dissected each album I listened to by default. I neatly noted my analyses in a Google spreadsheet. I casually assigned numerical values to separate my favourites. I've been running this process for so long that I no longer identify with another method of listening to music. And so, when the year's concluding days rolled around, over half of this list was already in my palms. What were my options? Hide my findings? That feels like a disservice to music itself. How unfair to a year of material. How blasphemous to the album gods. How could I deserve music after that? How could I look at myself in the mirror? Plus, a considerable amount of readers claim that they dig these blog pieces. If I can prompt some happiness in our confusing world, then surely I'm an asset, and the demons shush for a minute.

At the end of today, I make peace with the annual practice. Do you know why I am an acceptable music critic? Because I only review the albums I adore. I'm never out to insult creativity. I'm pushing positive vibes to the records that others may have overlooked. And in 2021, there were a bunch of them.

I digested 444 myself in total—what a satisfying number from a satisfying twelve months! So much so, selecting the upper 50 was yet another exercise in curbing anxiety. The abundance of decent product is undoubtedly a result of lockdowns, a fresh batch of inspiration juice spewing from experiences none of us predicted yet shared the understanding. Not to mention that the musicians were stuck at home for ages, with no social distractions, no performance responsibilities, nothing but time to murder. And if the sudden rise in quality from the more raucous rock bands is anything to go by, everyone is sick of this shit.

Anyway, I hope you find something to change your life below, and if you do, please tell your hot friends about Jared. Here are this year's most memorable albums, according to me.

The Top 50 Albums of 2021: 50. Sectlinefor - Kissing Strangers During an Outbreak

50. Sectlinefor - Kissing Strangers During an Outbreak

Alternative Industrial Metal
28 May

Respect the hustle! The general consensus is that Sectlinefor's third record stands on top of their catalogue as the (current) peak of their sound—the most comfortable/uncomfortable meeting point between guitarist Piton's progressive symphonics and vocalist Jared's comical aesthetics, representing both the darkness of depression and the colours of comedy in equal measures. And yet the unconventional deliveries and genre-bending spectrum of Kissing Strangers During an Outbreak can't unhinge the coherent ghost of the pandemic locked inside, a record definitely reflecting the "new normal" atmosphere of the world (which, as you know, is anything but normal). Just watch the video for the first single, The Saddest Face in All of Existence, and you'll grasp the vibe without ease.

The Top 50 Albums of 2021: 49. San Salvador - La grande folie

49. San Salvador - La grande folie

Polyphonic Occitan Avant-Folk Chant Music
22 January

I'm sure there's a whole world where music like this flows in abundance, but I am yet to discover it, leaving all reference points nonexistent. I'm not even able to find my jaw, actually, I dropped it somewhere here, have you seen it? Supported by sporadic driving percussion, San Salvador are primarily a vocal outfit—one of the best vocal outfits I've ever heard, at that—passing melodies between each player like juggling balls while layering their harmonies so high that they lick the base of Heaven. The passion, the talent, and the freshness buzz a spiritual reaction inside of me, and I wobble dizzy when imagining how epic this must sound as a live performance.

The Top 50 Albums of 2021: 48. Nanoray - Zapper

48. Nanoray - Zapper

Hardcore Breaks
8 February

Living up to tin’s promise, I can hear this record just by looking at the artwork. Distressed video game energy rushes the party, high on candy intake, glitching from the colours, permanently hyperventilating in full fight or flight mode. It’s a blast! Another welcome side effect is how quickly my fingers type when working to this music, zooming through tasks without noticing what I'm doing because I’m far too busy dancing. The secret to never realising you have a job lies in this album, apparently.

The Top 50 Albums of 2021: 47. Fire-Toolz - Eternal Home

47. Fire-Toolz - Eternal Home

Post-Industrial Avant-Progressive Electronic
15 October

As soon as the black metal vocals tear through the bouncy electro glitches, you know you're in for a perplexing journey, especially after noting the one hour and 18 minutes of endurance time. It goes on forever and ever! And yet, the chaotic overflow of crazy extract and ever-shifting variation of stylistic choices completely sidestep any risk of boredom, the onslaught eventually overriding the brain, tuning into a foreign planet countless years away. Lifetimes pass until you reach the end, a brand new person, wondering what happened, only returning to reality because a different album came into your headphones. And then it's like, oh, actually this isn't a different album! It's the same album! It's still going! It was one thing, and now it's another thing, then it's back to the same thing as before! It's so many different things at once that I keep forgetting what I was doing! What is this?? Do I even like it?? Irrelevant. Produce a record as surreal and eclectic and interesting as this one, and you're guaranteed a slot on my list. Good work, Fire-Toolz. Come and collect your gift certificate whenever you have a spare mo. 

The Top 50 Albums of 2021: 46. Amigo the Devil - Born Against

46. Amigo the Devil - Born Against

Gothic Country
16 April

"I never knew how patient I could be until I watched you bleed". Hey, so, gothic country is a fun idea! Ah, Born Against, I geddit! Haha. I like it. The Devil is in the details, Amigo. The darkness hides solely in the lyrics, rubbing its pain in your face raw over those storytelling pluckings only them folky southerner folks can accomplish without sounding silly. If you're the same as I am and wish to have a good time while thinking about death, check out this record over here. It's not your average cabaret bloodbath, take it from me.

The Top 50 Albums of 2021: 45. Halsey - If I Can't Have Love, I Want Power

45. Halsey - If I Can't Have Love, I Want Power

Alternative Electronic Art Pop Rock
27 August

What a delight when a project's backstory is as exhilarating as the content itself. Legend tells that Halsey had already completed If I Can't Have Love, I Want Power when she morphed from the star into the groupie. She reached out to her heroes, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, essentially begging them to produce the work by promising them full reign over the end product. What trust! Surprisingly to everyone, the duo agreed and proceeded to strip the songs into little bits, reconstructing each one until the record was less a Halsey effort, far more a Nine Inch Nails affair. How often does that happen? When the production team outshines the leading voice. When listeners click the link for the names inside of the cover, not the front. When a remix album comes out of an original that doesn't even exist. And yet, you've got to hand it to NIN for serving the tracks above their egos, forever recognising the moments where best to play it reserved by nudging the vocal hooks upwards, then knowing when to shove their industrial fists through the spotlight, knocking the centrepiece off to the side. That said, it's not fair to altogether remove Halsey from the creative praise here because her role came with its own signature magic. According to the artist herself, "this album is a concept album about the joys and horrors of pregnancy and childbirth", and there is something infinitely special in that idea—the miracle of procreation within your female anatomy standing as your primary muse. It's a topic no male could ever comprehend or write about in any genuine fashion, and I find this theme so beautifully inspiring that it's worthy of the consideration alone irrespective of the Trent factor (even though the Trent factor is 100% why I've included this record, soz).

The Top 50 Albums of 2021: 44. Rochelle Jordan - Play With the Changes

44. Rochelle Jordan - Play With the Changes

Alternative R&B UK Bass
30 April

Rhythm and blues and drum and bass. Who knew? Rochelle Jordan knew. But while the sexy softness of her vocals keeps the clouds afloat, it's the super clean production that jolts the euphoria, never letting go of its clubby undertones, invigorating a faster heartbeat with busy percussion patterns that seduce you onto the dancefloor long into the night, then disappearing in the morning, leaving you feeling a little bit sad. Still a good party, though. No regrets.

The Top 50 Albums of 2021: 43. The World Is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die - Illusory Walls

43. The World Is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die - Illusory Walls

Post-Rock Midwest Emo
8 October

Leaving nothing to chance, The World Is a Beautiful Place have sacrificed every trace of energy they have into making this their most potent album to date. The dense production towers above the listener yet grants ample breathing space, never suffocating the ride, ensuring maximum power. The male-to-female vocal dynamics balance one another into a singular coherent system, missioning fiercely forward, aimed at a shared target. The lyrics are aware of... something, revealing deeper theatrics at work while the songs themselves are simply epico, swirling massive feelings inside me that weren’t placed there by accident. The proficiency of this record outshines the rest of their career, which is surprising when learning that two founding members were absent this round, namely Tyler Bussey (guitar, vocals) who quit, and Tom Diaz (keyboards, guitar, vocals) who sadly passed away in 2018.

The Top 50 Albums of 2021: 42. Little Simz - Sometimes I Might Be Introvert

42. Little Simz - Sometimes I Might Be Introvert

Conscious UK Hip Hop
3 September

As this record explodes itself over every end of year publication, I hastily shove it into mine to protect my ass, but I'll readily admit I take issue with it. And that issue is how deep Little Simz is into her own shit, an arrogant attitude flaunting her greatness as if this entire album is bigging herself up in the mirror—a lyrical approach so typical so the genre that I no longer vibe the vibe. Her pretentiousness then leaks outward onto me, preaching advice like a motivational Helvetica Bold poster, which does not inspire me in the slightest. On the contrary, it cringes me. However, I can push that aside if needs be and focus on what does deserve the accolades. Fast flows. Thoughtful word choices. And, above all else, the production, which is oh-my-immaculate, not making a single mistake despite running for well over an hour. So I bow my head with grace. My complaints were opinion based anyway, and everyone has an asshole.

The Top 50 Albums of 2021: 41. Black Sheep Wall - Songs for the Enamel Queen

41. Black Sheep Wall - Songs for the Enamel Queen

Atmospheric Sludge Doom Metal
26 February

In a year when metal has turned soft and bendy, the hungry must seek vindication wherever we can, even if we have to confront the darkest mucks of nihilistic hatred. Black Sheep Wall are the ideal candidates who take the metalcore torch dropped by Norma Jean in the mid-2000s and then run with it straight into a jagged rock. Be warned of its aggressive heaviness that dribbles poison through bared teeth, but in the same moment, admire its quivering eyes that betray a vulnerability, losing a tear during melodic moments, wanting to die and wanting you to die in no particular order. Personally, I’m open to the conversation. I wasn’t doing anything else.

The Top 50 Albums of 2021: 40. Billie Eilish - Happier Than Ever

40. Billie Eilish - Happier Than Ever

Contemporary Alt-Pop R&B
30 July

Think back to the 2010s. Was there anyone who shot to the superstars faster and higher than then-17-year-old Billie Eilish? Her stainless debut pinned her name upon every map, a pressure none of us could fathom, personally or creatively. What goes up must fetch hype, and an endless line of critical pens clicked, ready to scrutinise this sophomore via any holes necessary. But their ink ran dry long before they found the words. Meet Happier Than Ever. Instead of pandering to what fans asked or shutting herself off in protection or desperately attempting to reinvent what she'd created, Billie invites us into the roundabouts of her newfound lifestyle. She candidly reveals how her intensely focused fame forced her to mature quicker than her years, an older soul dealing with the attention weighing upon her every move until she learns to stand up for herself and say no. Thankfully, she does not take this stand alone, with her brother Finneas returning with his production so uncluttered that he disguises his magic within the subtleties—truly a family of incomprehensible talent. That said, Happier Than Ever isn't perfect. It's longer than it needs to be, and it's not as exciting as her previous record either. But it unquestionably carries some of her finest songs, and even more importantly, it proves Billie is the real deal with every sign of a true artist laid out for the globe to drool over. She followed up the impossible follow up, and now she owns the foundations to build a solid career for a long time. Like, a long long time. Decades of Billie still to come. She's only 19!!

The Top 50 Albums of 2021: 39. Maria Arnal i Marcel Bagés - Clamor

39. Maria Arnal i Marcel Bagés - Clamor

Glitch Art Pop
5 March

Maria sure can sing, layering her gracefully light Spanish cream upon itself thick until the ethereal project threatens to drift away. But it’s the much darker production that keeps our feet grounded, then dropping us to our knees, creeping along, praying we don’t get caught. There is a scarier presence here that Maria appears to be hiding, the record containing something much larger than initially apparent. And with each curious listen, this thing escapes further, introducing itself louder, getting acquainted with the world outside of the music. It’s up to you how far you’re willing to let this go, so be careful.

The Top 50 Albums of 2021: 38. Ross From Friends - Tread

38. Ross From Friends - Tread

Future Garage
22 October

You had me at your DJ name, bro. Is this a 90s ecstasy euphoria throwback? Or is it downtempo house running along the cutting-edge of modern clubbing? If you can consecutively ask those two questions, then the explanation is timelessness, the precise record you're always aching for when you limp into the comedown tent seeking a saviour. Yeah, ok, sure, it loses a couple of points for being so gloriously top-heavy, but it manages to clutch the sentiment until the end, concluding as my favourite chillzone electronic offering since 2015's In Colour by Jamie xx.

The Top 50 Albums of 2021: 37. Fawn Limbs - Darwin Falls

37. Fawn Limbs - Darwin Falls

Avant-Garde Mathcore
13 August

As is the nature of elitist metalheads, it's always a risk to veer too far off the blueprint. The audience starts asking questions! But in Fawn Limbs' case, they appear to have found an original cranny that even the most snobby of the mob can observe with nods of agreement. The "metalcore" sections are typical to the genre (screamy and sufficient within their derivatives) yet it's the innovative downtimes that snag the ear with an unsual twist. Like finding yourself stuck in an audiobook, the protagonist relays tales via croaky spoken words. He takes the listener on a dangerous adventure, beckoning us to lean forward to better hear the narrative before smashing us back in our seats with that same metal punch, the two-gear dynamic all the more satisfying when working together. It's truly a unique experience and worth its weight, which is saying a lot because when it's heavy, it's fucking heavy, man!

The Top 50 Albums of 2021: 36. Underscores - Fishmonger

36. Underscores - Fishmonger

Electronic Indie Hyperpop
25 March

Throughout the internet, barrels of this bedroom Gen Z electricity are overflowing, but something about Underscores' pop variation is fizzier than most, and I'm delighted to climb inside whenever. I know I'm in strange company. I accept that it's a reflection of a generation younger than me. But perhaps it's that same youthfulness I crave that fills me with such joy, and even if I don't possess the contemporary lingo to fit in with or describe this crowd, I know that whatever I'm trying to say has cartoon hearts floating around it.

The Top 50 Albums of 2021: 35. CHANCE デラソウル - CHANCE デラソウル

35. CHANCE デラソウル - CHANCE デラソウル

Future Funk
27 March

Hello, Chance de la Soul. Productive much? Eleven albums in five years? At times clocking in at over an hour a shot (including this one)? And yet no steam appears lost, this self-titled offering celebrating itself, bouncing your emotions like a ball until your mood levitates up and out of the house, gone. Furthermore, it never demands participation, just a background joy forever ready for you to dip in and out whenever you feel up to it. Only party if you want to! Because this subtly funky record simply wishes to assist your good times, not be the good times, you know? Maybe the production errs on the side of amateur, and perhaps a few track cuts would have served the overall voyage, but it lightly rubs me in just the right place and slots so cleanly into my memory that I want everybody to know. And now you do!

The Top 50 Albums of 2021: 34. Backxwash - I Lie Here Buried With My Rings and My Dresses

34. Backxwash - I Lie Here Buried With My Rings and My Dresses

Industrial Hip Hop Horrorcore
20 June

Do I blame hip hop? Or myself? Usually such a dependable genre, it's worrying how few rappy releases impressed me this year. Thank goodness for Backxwash, then, for not only releasing my favourite "hip hop" record of 2021 but ensuring that hardly any other hip hop fan would have the stomach for it. Because I Lie Here is not your usual lyrical flow meets casual beats; this is hardcore, where the darkness drips heavy into realms much closely related to metal. It's also worth noting Backxwash's place in the subcategory of trans artists aggressively conquering the modern industrial scene—except she appears to have no interest in sounding feminine whatsoever. Instead, Ashanti Mutinta sticks to her masculine vocal cords to deliver her message, happy to allow a very deliberate selection of guest stars to balance her out, including Ada Rook from Black Dresses and Sadie Dupuis from Speedy Ortiz. It's intense stuff! So much so, that even if the competition weren't so thin, this would surely remain one of our year's most remarkable rap contributions, period.

The Top 50 Albums of 2021: 33. Genesis Owusu - Smiling With No Teeth

33. Genesis Owusu - Smiling With No Teeth

5 March

Like any worthwhile art piece, Smiling With No Teeth comes loaded with so much duality that I'm unsure which words to use when describing what I'm hearing. There's that retro funky hip hop feel placing it way back when, yet the playful production is so unmistakably modern that it could never exist before the now, confusing the entire neo-soul narrative until it extends across a parallel timeline of its own creation. The minimalist beats smooth the land, allowing Genesis to flex his upbeat deliveries, exuding so much skill that it's borderline excessive. I can't eat all of this! But you know you're onto something when a 50+ minute album flies past at what feels half the time because... fun!

The Top 50 Albums of 2021: 32. LOREM IPSUM - Vivre Encore

32. LOREM IPSUM - Vivre Encore

Avant-Folk Screamo Chamber Music
28 January

And once again, another hybrid comes along to prove the human voice can scream over anything and produce something decent out the other side. In the case of Vivre Encore, the passionate cries of French words jut out from a much softer yet highly spirited baroque orchestral feel, a combination of seemingly juxtaposed worlds collaborating so well that the choices appear painfully obvious now. Certainly, we can label it a one-trick gift horse, but it's one helluva trick, and for me to sit here in 2021 and sincerely tell you that I have never heard anything like it is alone an astounding feat.

The Top 50 Albums of 2021: 31. CFCF - memoryland

31. CFCF - memoryland

Indietronica Dance Music
9 April

The only foolproof excuse one can apply when releasing a 1h11 long record is variation, and CFCF has achieved this so well that I initially assumed I was listening to a compilation instead of a singular overarching mind. And from there, the man proceeds to breathe life into the machine, a rare example of where electronics boast more intelligence and heart than what some artists achieve using more organic materials. Hence, albums like this erode the argument that digital is soulless and perhaps even suggest that one day the robots may supersede our human abilities, utilising expert precision to manipulate the human flaws within? More perfectly human than human? Not to say we’re quite there yet, but based on this offering, the movement is moving and is also happy to take its time doing so. Meanwhile, no 2021 release sticks into my mind at the same place as this one, and I contemplate it often. I guess that’s why they call it memoryland?

The Top 50 Albums of 2021: 30. Every Time I Die - Radical

30. Every Time I Die - Radical

Math Metalcore
22 October

As a long-term but casual ETID listener, never in all my reviewing years did I think this band would release something impressive enough to touch my precious end of year list. Then Radical burst out and POW, here I am, writing these glowing sentences, what a world. Because even if this is not some grand departure from paths they've bulldozed before, it's where their two strong decades of training has finally paid off. Just listen to them exploding with energy, dancing around their competition, aggressively throwing wild swings that land every punch. Moreover, they're blatantly having a ton of fun doing so, not taking the fight seriously in the slightest, laughing internally behind those angry faces. Goddamn, I want to say it's the best record of their discography, but it's so good that I suddenly feel compelled to rethink my lax attitude towards their entire back catalogue too. Brb.

The Top 50 Albums of 2021: 29. Leah Blevins - First Time Feeling

29. Leah Blevins - First Time Feeling

Neo-Traditionalist Americana Country
6 August

When nothing but that genuine traditional Nashville country flavour will satisfy, consider giving Leah Blevins' debut a spin. Because First Time Feeling not only hits the spot, it crams its Americana gum into every available gap until the spot isn't even visible anymore, delivered with a smile, you're welcome. Each year has its country darling, and my 2021 money is on Leah, relieved to hear a newcomer pulling shots as confident as the veterans who have come before. Sadly, nobody else seems to have noticed her yet, which is why I dub this album as the most overlooked diamond on my entire list. Fine by me. Either she blows up, and I get to say, "I told you so, na-na!" or she doesn't, and I get to keep this one to myself. I can't lose!

The Top 50 Albums of 2021: 28. Silk Sonic - An Evening With Silk Sonic

28. Silk Sonic - An Evening With Silk Sonic

Smooth Soul
12 November

Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak walk into a club. How quickly do you think they each get laid? Here is the sexiest record of the year from the two contemporary kings of smooth moves. They're feeling themselves in the most laid-back of manners and on the prowl for pussy yet almost entirely avoiding the scent of sleaze. Almost. Either way, their joyous rapport booms through each line, an enjoyment of the craft that one cannot fake, oozing such fun vibrations that I bounce behind my desk just to take part. I'm not gay, but I'm fully turned on here.

The Top 50 Albums of 2021: 27. L'Rain - Fatigue

27. L'Rain - Fatigue

Neo-Psychedelia Soul
25 June

Less than half an hour runtime means if you blink, you may miss it, which is precisely what the whole world has done. Fatigue is one of my uppermost choices for overlooked album of the year. I've never quite heard anything like it, coming across like a compilation of interludes that refuses to settle, blurring together fields of jazzy chaos and ambient soul until the picture is nothing but an unrecognisable mess of colour. It's as trippy as I make it sound, yet also highly attractive. Stop inhaling those fumes though. They're changing you.

The Top 50 Albums of 2021: 26. BRUIT ≤ - The Machine Is Burning and Now Everyone Knows It Could Happen Again

26. BRUIT ≤ - The Machine Is Burning and Now Everyone Knows It Could Happen Again

2 April

It’s always impressive when a fundamentally instrumental album manages to invoke conceptual visions, but BRUIT ≤’s debut convinces me that it's an environmentally-driven record, accurately reflecting the apocalyptic fear of a dying world. Of course, destroying something beautiful means something beautiful was there to begin with, and that's represented too. So when the swells of orchestral emotion lift the dark curtain to remind us of the life we once had, you may be tempted to whisper the same thing as everyone else. “This sounds like a Godspeed You! Black Emperor record”. Ok, true. But Godspeed also released an album this year. A mighty fine record at that. Except, for my money, The Machine Is Burning is better. And if this was a Godspeed release, we’d be shitting ourselves at such a late-career epic, calling it one of their overall best. So there!

The Top 50 Albums of 2021: 25. nouns - Lonely Place of Dyin

25. nouns - Lonely Place of Dyin

Experimental Post-Hardcore Emo Rock
9 August

A (very quick) 24-minute record featuring two (very long) tracks, Lonely Place of Dyin is not reliant on its tried-and-tested loud-soft dynamic that tugs the heart down then slaps you in the face. It's also not all about the lo-fi bedroom production, which sounds even louder without the gleam. Instead, it's about the stories, both songs processing the loss of a loved one through the ups and downs of emotions some of us are unlucky to understand. If you truly want to grasp what makes this album unique beyond its surface area, please read the eulogies on Bandcamp. They shine a dim light into the darkness, and it will make you sad.

The Top 50 Albums of 2021: 24. Magdalena Bay - Mercurial World

24. Magdalena Bay - Mercurial World

8 October

Stealing the cutest cues from classic disco dance floors (think Kylie) and more modern synthpop angles (think Grimes, think Purity Ring), Mercurial World claims a distinctive zone by avoiding too much nostalgia-play and refusing that final sachet of artificial sweetener. And while the temptation is to stack your best songs first, Magdalena Bay's strategy was far more balanced. They offer the listener an easy entry point initially, then use their most interesting songs to build a bridge over the midway sag, ultimately reaching the final stages safely before signing off with their biggest bangs yet. Such a lack of flashy arrogance and not caring about "being something" encourages me to suggest this as the "pop" pop album of the year. Although, full disclosure, certain fringe moments do irritate me. At least I'm honest.

The Top 50 Albums of 2021: 23. Dry Cleaning - New Long Leg

23. Dry Cleaning - New Long Leg

Spoken Word Post-Punk
2 April

How well can the modern middle-class British attitude front a jangly breed of post-punk artiness? Perfectly, as it turns out; proven by Florence Shaw's sardonic poetics that desaturate the mural into dreary monotones, giving zero fucks and all of the fucks simultaneously. Call it hipster, call it a stream of nonsensical phrases, call it a Rio de Janeiro bouncy ball filter, call it whatever. But the disinterest in vocal effort, studio trickeries, or contemporary genres is precisely what will keep New Long Leg on the timeless shelf for ample years to come (even if the repetitiveness might slightly lower the price).

The Top 50 Albums of 2021: 22. Nick Cave and Warren Ellis - CARNAGE

22. Nick Cave and Warren Ellis - CARNAGE

Chamber Art Rock Pop
25 February

Pretending this is a Bad Seeds record (and I fucking do!), Carnage is yet another definite progression for artists who have not made a wrong step for over four decades. And while the title got me salivating for an old school hark back to previous post-punk recklessness, it sticks to the trend set out by recent offerings. Cinematic ambience. Unsettling thumpings. A natural flow. Familiar, but a touch different to any ground covered before. And like we’d established many (many (many!)) records before this one, Nick is the archetype of a rock god growing old with charm. His voice has only improved over the years while his ultracool style exudes from his every lyric, his every gesture, his every pore. Hence I will mimic his every move for as long as I live because, historically, nobody has progressed with as much class.

The Top 50 Albums of 2021: 21. death's dynamic shroud.wmv - Faith in Persona

21. death's dynamic shroud.wmv - Faith in Persona

Glitch Pop Vaporwave
1 November

Talk about a numbers game; by my tally Death's Dynamic Shroud.wmv released 11 albums this year! Whaaaat. And while it's up for debate which one stuck the best (I was rather partial to Sleepless myself), it was November's Faith in Persona that appeared to capture the most substantial section of our collective imagination. Perhaps this success can be attributed to the atrocious artwork that lures a false sense of cheap progressive metal, conning clicks from fanciers of that subgenre? But therein lies additional appeal when listeners slap flat into an uplifting pop record that dances on the line between commercial hooks written for radio and abstract dreamscapes that ensure the radio wouldn't know what to do with it. I've read multiple fans lauding this release as a peak of the vaporwave genre, and I fully slam down my stamp of approval upon that notion. JARED RECOMMENDS, my stamp says.

The Top 50 Albums of 2021: 20. black midi - Cavalcade

20. black midi - Cavalcade

26 May

Considering black midi’s 2019 debut, Schlagenheim, was one of the most forward-thinking spazz-outs of that decade, a ton was riding on their follow up. Did they harness enough genuine inventive genius to somersault over the sophomore slump? Or would the sudden spotlight pressure melt the insane drive into mundane dribble? Are you asking me? I’m unsure how to answer. On the one hand, they have drastically diluted the hysteria, trading the wild knife stabs for a more sophisticated form of avant-garde lounge music, less nervewracking but more unsettling. Yet this risk alone cements their position in the highest calibre of new experimental rock bands, unafraid to build a boat that works then promptly diving off the edge into unexplored waters. And while it initially caught me off guard (and while I still prefer their previous job), I recognise how difficult it is to successfully create peculiar art in our current desensitised zeitgeist. Not for midi though, as they slide straight through everything and hit their intended target dead-centre again. Keep it coming, boys!

The Top 50 Albums of 2021: 19. Converge & Chelsea Wolfe - Bloodmoon: I

19. Converge & Chelsea Wolfe - Bloodmoon: I

Atmospheric Gothic Sludge Metal
19 November

My kingdom to be a bug on the wall, listening to this meeting. I can only imagine the excitement for everyone involved when some genius proposed the idea, “Why not a collaborative album between Converge and Chelsea Wolfe?”. Holy shit balls of darkness, I get chills! Because, even without the album existing, you know what it would sound like, and Bloodmoon: I sounds exactly like that! Except it’s better. Both artists muster their A-game without overstepping into another’s path or sacrificing their personalities to appease the counterpart, instead melting into one another by doing precisely what they can each do better than everybody. And here we hold a cold, fierce, and uncompromising treasure, prompting me to secretly pray that this is not the end of such a perfect creative marriage. Hold up, did you say Bloodmoon: I? As in, the first one??

The Top 50 Albums of 2021: 18. Black Dresses - Forever in Your Heart

18. Black Dresses - Forever in Your Heart

Electro-Industrial Rock
14 February

In record time, Black Dresses have risen as a phenomenon within the underground contemporary industrial scene, swallowing up a portion all to themselves and repeatedly dominating it. Five albums in four years (excluding copious solo/guest work) is a testament to their high-speed productivity, proving they’ve found their exact vein with zero traffic, racing through the system, bursting every artery along the way. They walloped me from the get-go, my playlists well-acquainted with every album, the majority of their releases infiltrating my final Top 50 articles of those respective years. Hence, it provokes great fear when I conclude Forever in Your Heart as their most impressive work to date. The rise in appeal could be the lean into more commercial aesthetics, yet this record is the opposite of selling out. They’ve only gone harder! Sharpening up their electronic distortions so intensely that they are swinging scissors dangerously close to metal now. I’m just glad their prior break-up announcement turned out to be void, and while that move only added to the accusations of their arrogant personalities (which many find intolerable), the art speaks for itself, loud and clearly louder still. Meanwhile, the rest of us can only brace ourselves for whatever attack comes next, even though it won't help.

The Top 50 Albums of 2021: 17. Low - HEY WHAT

17. Low - HEY WHAT

Experimental Post-Industrial Ambient Pop Rock
10 September

When 2018's infinitely acclaimed Double Negative dropped, the indie spectrum dropped with it, floored by the slowcore that had glitched beyond recognition, and what's more, from the heavyweights who had singlehandedly designed the genre landscape anyway. So when HEY WHAT joined the party, all predictions were off, and I was pleasantly surprised to note the band's half-step back towards their ambient roots yet still embracing their late-career fascination with electronic blips and fuzz-time distortions. It's encouraging to witness decades-old artists who have forever refused to compromise their visions, sticking to their craft without preciousness. They've allowed their sound to evolve naturally yet (in these cases) very abruptly without reservations, coming out the side with work that is their most relevant while rivalling their very best. And as we analyse a flawless 13-album-strong discography, what you're actually watching is one of the most consistent and greatest bands the planet holds right now.

The Top 50 Albums of 2021: 16. Tinashe - 333

16. Tinashe - 333

Alternative R&B
6 August

A tsunami of R&B heavyweight records drowned out the 2010s, but like all good things, it pulled back across the shore, leaving fewer treasures in the wake of recent years. Speaking in 2021 terms, the lack of blinding glitter provided Tinashe with the perfect clear shot to pin the genre's AOTY, but the triumph wasn't exclusively contextual. Her audio smoothie of pure quality ingredients offered only absolute pleasures, including specific songs that completely slap the game out of orbit. Consequently, when analysing this analysis, it's obvious that Tinashe has really struck something special on 333, but we must also appreciate that this isn't even the first time she's done so. She's been smashing it since 2014! I love everything she's done! And I'm always in the mood to listen any of her work because she pulls me onto her level and takes care of me until I feel better. So thanks again, Tinashe!

The Top 50 Albums of 2021: 15. Giant Claw - Mirror Guide

15. Giant Claw - Mirror Guide

Progressive Electronic Collage Music
14 May

The most agonising mistake I made with Mirror Guide was embarking on my first listen with a hangover. Man, my anxiety poked a hole through the ceiling. It was like getting stuck in the world's longest Windows start-up sound, and I kept having to turn it off every 20 seconds to catch my breath. But despite my struggles, I knew something unusual was to be found here, so I revisited the experience plenty. And eventually, I discovered myself within this futuristic "music", scattering minute details in every direction, these fast-forwarded jitters tiptoeing through my brain without any regard to the shine they left behind. It's utter madness. And I'm convinced I have some permanent damage now. Because I think about it. All. The. Time.

The Top 50 Albums of 2021: 14. Remi Wolf - Juno

14. Remi Wolf - Juno

Contemporary Indie Pop R&B
15 October

Far from attempting to rewrite the rulebook, Remi primarily prioritises having fun, effortlessly allowing her talents to spill out smarty-pants lyrics stacked on top of cheeky cultural references, verifying that she's been paying attention in class. The tried-and-tested pop formula is on full display here, and Juno definitely doesn't sound like anything new, yet when I sought artists to compare her to, I came up dry. That's when I realise there's something else going on here. It's a record that is, by every criterion, trendy af, but it does not succumb to any absolute trend, creating the illusion of following a beaten path, when in actuality, it's cutting a groove solely unto itself. And that goes for each one of these infectiously loveable songs, the album seemingly getting better per every track, per every spin, per every time my excited memory reminds me of its existence, lifting my mood waaaay up! :D

The Top 50 Albums of 2021: 13. Anna B Savage - A Common Turn

13. Anna B Savage - A Common Turn

Art Pop
29 January

Savage by name but not by game, Anna won't tear into your heart using wild force but instead edges her way inside with deeply personal confessions and a strangeness of infinite discomforts. Of course, you will agree that her monotone melancholy steals the show, but once you can slip beneath her haunted covers and relate the beautiful mess to yourself, you may appreciate the true genius of the subtle instrumentation, gifting her/me/you/us the mattress to ache from. It is simply one of those impossible debuts that takes its total length of time before you realise how slowly you've been fucked. And only at the end, you're like... oh my god. Oh my god!!

The Top 50 Albums of 2021: 12. Arlo Parks - Collapsed in Sunbeams

12. Arlo Parks - Collapsed in Sunbeams

Bedroom Pop Neo-Soul
29 January

Based on multiple reported observations (plus a direct Thom Yorke name-drop on Too Good), we Radiohead scholars/junkies have praised Arlo Parks' debut as some distant cousin to the critically worshipped In Rainbows. Because it is. And when you approach Collapsed in Sunbeams from that perception of soft arty guitar progressions and emotionally intelligent lyrical flows, the influence becomes inescapably obvious. Hey! Arlo birthed the In Rainbows sequel we never knew we needed! Hallelujah! And while every song deserves everyone's full awareness, there are special tracks that sweep me off my chair, which occurse integrity of what made them so special in the first plac frequently, dotted about until the very end, proving her pedantic attention to perfect track sequencing as well. Fast-forward several months, and this album won the 2021 Mercury Prize, squeaking me with joy, eep!.

The Top 50 Albums of 2021: 11. Black Swan - Repetition Hymns

11. Black Swan - Repetition Hymns

Ambient Drone Tape Music
8 January

When the euphoria tumbles into the dust and its mood swiftly turns ugly, Repetition Hymns will be there. It laps its textured tongue over you like waves that drag you under for so long that you almost hear a song down here somewhere. But even the darkest of attics have cracks where the light can creep through, penetrating the atmosphere with something nice, something optimistic. Go on and pick up that dirty euphoria. Wipe it off, and show gratitude for an experience so far removed from everything else that, no matter what 2021 holds, this record's position remains unaffected.

The Top 50 Albums of 2021: 10. Turnstile - Glow On

10. Turnstile - Glow On

Post-Hardcore Punk
27 August

In one of the most surprising curveballs of 2021, American hardcore scene leaders, Turnstile, traded their gritty tricks and fast bites for a more delicious poppy progression, and what's more, it worked! How did they do that? By never abandoning the integrity of what made them so special in the first place. Instead, they sought joy within what their boundaries allowed, ultimately offering the most unified record they've made yetnot a substantial departure but a conscious stride, one masterful shift seldomly executed so well in modern music. Honestly, I am yet to read a single critic who can describe this record adequately. That includes me.

The Top 50 Albums of 2021: 09. Japanese Breakfast - Jubilee

09. Japanese Breakfast - Jubilee

Indie Chamber Pop
4 June

As my age inescapably increases, I find myself far more impressed with the no-frills, zero-gimmicky, anti-shock tactic styles of artistic output. Give me strong songwriting presented within clean production value, and I’m at the mercy of your palm. Hence when I read the accolades raining down upon Jubilee, the most exuberant sense of hope about the entire future of modern music swells inside of me. Every song on offer deserves its timeframe, functioning to build a cohesive mood smoothed throughout yet void of repetitiveness; a complete collection of upper-quality gems that each satisfy with their own unique sparkle. It's so good it could be a best-of compilation! And that's why I struggle to think of any reputable end-of-year publication that would dare omit this entry. You'd look like a fucking fool.

The Top 50 Albums of 2021: 08. S280F - 28

08. S280F - 28

Ambient Epic Collage
28 April

A gentle piano tiptoes across light strings, placing soft cotton into your ear canal. And then a fucking monster comes out of nowhere and kills everyone you've ever loved. Oh god, no, this is not a meditation! This is a surgery! Electronic demons live here! Come quick, we better run! But where do you go when there's nothing but a lone 56-minute song? We're already lost, and there's no trail back. So we frantically turn dark corners in terror, vocalising our fears each time the sharp instruments cut into us, listening to the biological sludge as the operation intensifies deeper within our auditory orifices. How is anyone supposed to deal with something like this? The only way is to hold on. The only way is to accept this as the most beautiful pictureless horror film I've ever heard.

The Top 50 Albums of 2021: 07. IOSONOUNCANE - IRA


Post-Industrial Darkwave
14 May

An hour and 49 minutes is an unreasonable amount of time to invite an album into your house just to summon demons, but IRA is one of those exceptional records where the length is part of the act. It wouldn't be such a monstrous masterpiece at a smaller size, so you give up, you let it in, and you sit verging on a panic attack as each haunted song introduces itself as an individual spiritual being. They're well-composed. Polite. Never disorderly. But as they bind themselves to your cerebral walls, you might find yourself permanently possessed by a presence far darker than IRA's demeanour initially allows you to understand. Quite a peculiar vibe, to be fair. One I'd only cautiously recommend to a very select few of you.

The Top 50 Albums of 2021: 06. Origami Angel - Gami Gang

06. Origami Angel - Gami Gang

Midwest Emo-Pop
30 April

Hey, have you seen that midlife crisis high school film where Jared Woods dances around his room in his underwear? Everyone has been stuck in such a dark rut since 2020 that perhaps Origami Angel's brand of super-pop optimism smashed through the murk by relativity alone. But it boasts the skillset to justify this position all the same, refusing lazy chord changes and using every four bars to unwrap a special surprise just for you. Except it's not some experimental artsy-fart or mathy flexathon either! It's nothing but smooth moves, baby! Only the juiciest vocal melodies effortlessly commanding the hookiest songs I've heard in this genre (or any genre, for that matter). Every song could be a single! Every damn song! Which is a dangerous game, of course. The shelf life of something so extra sticky will always be a concern. Ugh, future problems, right? For now, here is my guiltiest pleasure and most pleasurable guilt of the decade thus far.

The Top 50 Albums of 2021: 05. Lingua Ignota - Sinner Get Ready

05. Lingua Ignota - Sinner Get Ready

Neoclassical Avant-Folk Darkwave
6 August

While so many musicians shamelessly speak of the devil in hopes of scaring their audiences into darkness, Lingua discovered a much more disturbing key hidden deep within the opposite direction. Satan isn't scary. God is scary. Religion is scary. And that's why she writes albums that trap you in cold churches, whipping your dirty soul with sermons so terrifying that you repent! And repent! And repent! Please, I repent, Lingua! I repent!!! Very few artists legitimately strike a quiver into my day, but Ignota's work persistently ruins my life, and it's exclusively because her delivery sounds far too genuine. I believe her every word.

The Top 50 Albums of 2021: 04. Bo Burnham - Inside (The Songs)

04. Bo Burnham - Inside (The Songs)

Synthpop Musical Comedy
10 June

With touring opportunities evaporating in the COVID mist, it appeared every artist and their dog released a lockdown album. But, note what I say, no record will go down in history as a more accurate time capsule than Burnham's Inside. It's so modern, in fact, that in a few decades, it might make little to no sense. Right now, thoughlike right right nowthese songs are so relatable that I heard them in my head before I heard them here. Evidently, the pandemic soil proved fertile for Bo. His genius signature brand of woke comedy and competent songwriting found access into the pulse of current conditions, capturing everyone's unrest in such a hilarious manner that everything feels so much worse now. I laugh out loud, but it frightens me, and if any album nearly drove me to suicide, this would be the one.

The Top 50 Albums of 2021: 03. Yola - Stand for Myself

03. Yola - Stand for Myself

Country Pop Soul
30 July

Every once in a long while, a record will come along that not only belongs to the decades previous but challenges the highest calibre of classics that age boasted. Point proven: if someone told me that Stand for Myself was the greatest record of the seventies, I’d listen to it and would not have the ammunition to disagree. My only complaint, then, is against myself. I am shamefully aware that something as flawlessly executed as Yola's sophomore deserves to be the Album of the Year, no questions asked. And yet, my cursed preconceived notions of what such an honour means blocks me, and I gently pat it down to this unfair (albeit hugely respectable) slot. But the secret is out: this release is 2021’s absolute best.

The Top 50 Albums of 2021: 02. Fucked Up - Year of the Horse

02. Fucked Up - Year of the Horse

Post-Hardcore Art Rock Opera
7 May
Spotify Act One; Act Two; Act Three; Act Four

In an ever-transforming industry setting, only the fittest musicians can make a dent. But what Fucked Up have executed here is one of the biggest dick moves in the history of streaming favouritism. For Year of the Horse is less of an album, technically four EPs kind of, except they've split each release further down into 16 - 25 tracks a pop on Spotify. Meaning, if you listen to this full record only three times, that's 240 streams already. Talk about conquering everyone's end of year Wrapped lists! Whether you like it or not, welcome to your most listened to album/artist of 2021! Thankfully, the band earns the right, galloping short tracks past you so fast that it's impossible to lock focus on a singular idea, yet it's also impossibly consistent with zero loss of steam, an achievement that is utterly baffling to me. Who has such a bountiful mix of talent, stamina, and ambition to birth an idea so monstrous? Fucked Up, I guess, doing it all and doing it very well, finally nailing their perfectly juxtaposed confrontational/vulnerable dynamic after 15 years of trying.

The Top 50 Albums of 2021: 01. Black Country, New Road - For the First Time

01. Black Country, New Road - For the First Time

Experimental Post-Punk Rock
5 February

What am I supposed to do? Not compare For the First Time to Slint? Maybe. I despise music comparisons anyway. They're frequently a crutch of lazy journalism, and this applies particularly strong to a band as uniquely creepshow as Black Country, New Road. But when I take a deep breath and resign to writing my review from this angle, what's important to note is that I mean it as the uppermost grade of a compliment. No album has come within inches of echoing that Spiderland overflow of intellectual and emotional anxiety, but for the first time since that 90s release, I think I can see the experimentally-posty-rocky bar rising. And the biggest difference is that Slint always sounded like they got lucky with that record. Black Country, New Road sound like they know exactly what they are doing. Additionally, according to the band themselves, there is more of this panic coming on this release's one year anniversary in 2022. How cool! And it's that type of crazy productivity mixed with such attention to detail that we love around here, arming a project with an additional wink and a nudge up to the top spot of my trembling heart. The end, goodbye.