Drum Roll Please. This Is… We Plug Good Music’s Best Albums of 2021
The closing credits of 2021 have started to roll and it is time to bow down before each other in respect of all our achievements.The year before had many obstacles, but everyone managed to stand still again. The human kind showcased strength, kindness, consistency and novelty. Our daily lives may have changed in various ways, but we have remained genuine at heart and never gave up on hope.
We had a good one and we are getting even more excited for what 2022 has got in the making for us. Our Christmas wishes for you are to keep on chasing your dreams and never stop believing in the gifts you have to offer to the world. Moreover, do not neglect your health and take care of the people you adore around you.
Now getting deeper in our stuff, the music scene experienced several twists. The charts welcomed more diverse genres in the mainstream. It has been a rich year of finely crafted rock, pop and hip hop records from every corner of the world. Countries such as Italy, Spain, South Korea and the continent of Africa served us with some of their greatest locals.
What is more, the industry’s relationship with online platforms got even tighter. Tik Tok has become the main trendsetter not only for viral videos but for uprising artists and hitmakers. Spotify saw the first round of earnings, since it started its operations and we are still trying to figure out what Grimes did with NFTs. Also, we have been observing the construction of the hybrid live streaming of shows and exploring its options.
Undoubtedly, the past 12 months were incredibly generous when it comes to phenomenal releases. Lil Nas X gracefully broke the rules, Billie Eilish exposed her vulnerable side and Adele hyped every ballad enthusiast out there. Of course, Kanye West demonstrated his skill set with the powerful Donda and we may not want to cause any trouble here but Taylor Swift did it, too.
Additionally, the level of inclusivity has been amazing this year with many power women leading the way. Dua Lipa, Megan Thee Stallion, Olivia Rodrigo and SZA are just a few names that kept the media talking. It is, also, important to mention the forthcoming modern jazz soul wave of talented musicians such as Jungle and Leon Bridges, which have seized many numbers in our list.
Once more Tereza Bittnerova and Zoe Eskitzopoulou as well as guest contributor Oyinlala have backed up our list with all the information needed to hook you up and listen to your favorites. While you can revisit the list so far here, the fourth part of our ‘Albums of 2021’ list highlights the best albums of the year, from #20 to #11.
20. Remi Wolf – Juno
Remi Wolf has come a long way since her appearance on American Idol in 2014. The 25-year old Californian singer has previously released two EPs and 2021 was the year she delivered her exquisite debut album titled Juno.
Writing the album while not being in the best place mentally and creating some of her best work yet felt cathartic. She shares her feelings about recently going sober on “Liquor Store”, not being the best person to be around sometimes on “Grumpy Old Man” and the polar opposites of a relationship on “Buttermilk”.
Combining funky tones, robust melodies and psychedelic synths, Remi Wolf has delivered a great debut album hinting at a hopeful long future for the artist.
19. The War On Drugs – I Don’t Live Here Anymore
With each album the American rock back The War On Drugs released, they have rightfully expanded and strengthened their fanbase. Their fifth studio album, I Don’t Live Here Anymore – in the words of the frontman Adam Granduciel – enters a new sonic territory, and once again proves they are on the right track.
Getting their inspiration from other musical acts, as can be heard on “Harmonia’s Dream”, or processing vocals in a Radiohead style on “I Don’t Wanna Wait”, the 2021 release is probably their strongest work yet, being more personal and audacious than before.
18. TRIBL, Maverick City Music – TRIBL Nights Atlanta
If you are like me, then one day in July, your YouTube randomly recommended Tribl Nights Worship, and over the summer, you were then obsessed with nameless songs you wished you could play on end on Spotify (and, okay, fine, Apple Music).
Then on November 12, TRIBL released Tribl Nights Atlanta on all streaming platforms. Taken from a worship night with Maverick City Music, Tribl Nights Atlanta is a collection of the 9 top tracks from the evening, which rightly puts this album in our top albums of the year.
To have both TRIBL and Maverick City Music on a project is to expect (and receive) pure excellence. With every song on the project accompanied by the most aesthetically pleasing music videos, Tribl Nights Atlanta gifts us the pleasure of seeing every riff and harmony come to life, which heightened my love for this project exponentially.
The album starts with the spontaneous worship of Worthy by Dante Bowe spilling into the most uplifting project of 2021. This album is filled to the brim with messages of hope, faith, and all-round amazing vocalists. The project reintroduces us to some of the Contemporary Christian Music scene’s cult favourite worship songs like “Build My Life” and “New Wine”.
Not only this, but we were also blessed with some original songs; “We Have Hope”, racking up over 400,00 streams on Spotify. This track, alongside “Moving” and “Build My Life”, have taken up space in my Spotify ‘On Repeat’, and it will most likely stay that way until 2022.
17. Arooj Aftab – Vulture Prince
The breathtaking Arooj Aftab unveils her spacious skillset in the tranquil musicality of her most recent release. She has left her Brooklyn self and guides the way to her roots in Pakistan. The vulnerability she exposes in her native language and traditional instruments knitting silk layers of fragile orchestrations.
The album Vulture Prince is dedicated to her younger brother’s death. Poetic vocals and glimmering sounds of violins and pianos give away moments of grief and reminiscence. Apart from her passion for Urdu ghazals and Hindustani soundscape, her influences also stem from the Afro-cuban and jazz scene, only to accelerate the interesting nonconformity of the piece.
16. Summer Walker – Still Over It
It has been two years from her outstanding debut album Over It and Summer Walker is keeping the fire going. While her wealthy total of appearances on her contemporaries’ projects as well as her Life On Earth EP had her music praised by fans and critics alike, her confident singing and unstoppable work ethic have ranked her as one of the R&B queens of our era.
She closed the year of 2021 with Still Over It – a personal statement regarding her journey with romantic relationships. Walker’s self-assurance is flourishing in her remarkable ability to open up relentlessly about her body insecurities after giving birth and her stress management issues.
Collaborating with Ari Lennox, Pharrel Williams and SZA, the singer has presented her best work so far and is giving away promises for a rich luminous future.
15. St. Vincent – Daddy’s Home
St. Vincent kept herself busy this year. After releasing a soundtrack to her Sundance-premiered mockumentary The Nowhere Inn, she also put out her sixth studio album Daddy’s Home that she co-produced with Jack Antonoff.
The album is inspired by the music she grew up with, such as Steely Dan and Stevie Wonder, and the early 1970’s sounds of groove, soul and jazz. The song “Daddy’s Home”, which the album was named after, however draws from the recent event of her father being released from a decade long prison sentence and one of the last times she visited him there. In her own words, she wanted to make new stories with older sounds.
14. Billie Eilish – Happier Than Ever
Billie Eilish took the world by storm with her debut album When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? in 2019. With the help of her brother Finneas, she made a name for herself with a dark unique sound, sinister lyrics and hushed atmospheric vocals.
However, on her sophomore album Happier Than Ever, the creative duo have gone in a completely different direction. Eilish is growing up, which is clear in every aspect of her music.
She uses this album to process what has happened since becoming famous in her personal life and in the world, introducing her new perspective on the title track “Getting Older” and being in love with the thought of her future on “My Future”, being excited to meet her and just wanting to get to know herself.
She tackles the topic of fame on “NDA” with a sound reminiscent of her previous record. Throughout, Billie Eilish is showcasing more of her vocal abilities and personal growth on Happier Than Ever, letting us know she is capable of more than some might think and she has a lot more to come.
13. Genesis Owusu – Smiling With No Teeth
Canberra based artist with Ghanaian and Australian heritage known as Genesis Owusu is making a name for himself this year with his conceptual debut album Smiling with No Teeth.
Using rap, spoken word and methods in between, he takes on the black dogs that appear throughout the record and represent depression and mental illness, racism and injustice in this world.
The album is divided into three acts, with the instrumentals in the first one being purposefully upbeat and dance-y in contrast to the darkness that is depression trying to get to and consume the storyteller. We also hear songs from the perspective of the black dog.
In the second act of the album, the hopeful energy of the instrumental part disappears as we get to meet the second dog representing racism. On the contrary, the instrumental is very minimal, putting emphasis on the lyrics.
The last three songs, forming the third act, touch on both topics as the artist goes through the journey of life accompanied by them. As Owusu delivers his first album with such incredible creativity, we can only imagine what is to follow as he grows as an artist.
12. Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders – Promises
One of the outsider revelations of the year was Promises, a series of movements by the British electronica magnate Floating Points and the American saxophonist Pharoah Sanders. Produced in association with the risk-taking and unconventional London Symphony Orchestra, it would be senseless to label this piece of art with a certain genre category.
Fluctuations of jazz and classical harmonious arrangements are embellished with minimal luminescent sounds and transitions. The legendary sax player has paired effortlessly with his much younger collaborator who is also known as Sam Shepherd and together they take the listeners to a cosmic exploration of musical spirituality.
11. Madlib – Sound Ancestors
On the back of thirty years of releasing and producing innumerable projects with multiple personages, Madlib showed up in 2021 with a debut solo album Sound Ancestors under his current moniker. Joined for the second time by his adored friend, Four Tet, they hit undiscovered musical pathways hungry for unknown soundscapes. The result is a melting pot of flawless orchestral instrumentations and afrofuturistic sensuality.
His broad spectrum of works with the likes of Blue Note Records, Freddie Gibbs and MF Doom has treasured him with the capability to interconnect jazz, hip hop, funk and soul in inconceivable practices. In honor of his predecessors, both the musician and his producer have curated Sound Ancestors with humble hard work and reinforcing wisdom of their past.
Click HERE for a full list of our Top 50 Albums of 2021!
Words by Tereza Bittnerova, Zoe Eskitzopoulou and Oyinlala // List curated by Ayo Adepoju