This article details my 25 favorite albums of 2021. This year's list includes a diverse selection of music and includes a short description of each release, the album's artwork, and links so you can listen to the music online. I hope you find something to love. I made a 25-song Spotify mix that contains one track from each album. You can find it here.
1. Nia Wyn - Take A Seat (Nia Wyn)
Nia Wyn's "Take A Seat" Ep is my album of the year! This record's stripped-down-pop-soul is perfectly crafted. Every lyric, beat, and note seamlessly blend into a 28-minute song cycle where Wyn's vocals float above a sea of in-the-pocket grooves.
LINK: Nia Wyn reps Fred Perry
2. Body Meπa - The Work Is Slow (Body Meπa)
Body Meπa is an instrumental ensemble consisting of drummer Greg Fox, bassist Melvin Gibbs, guitarist Sasha Frere-Jones, and guitarist Grey McMurray - four virtuosic musicians coming together for a new jazz-rock supergroup. This album is a triumphant display of each musician's individual talents. In particular, bass player Melvin Gibbs has long been one of my favorite musicians. His work with Sonny Sharrock, Eye & I, Rollins Band, and Jean-Paul Bourelly elevated each of those bands.
LINK: Body Meπa on Bandcamp
3. RMBLR - MF / EP (Rmblr)
What I know about the band RMBLR is that they split their time between Baltimore and Atlanta and that their 5-song MF/EP is one of my favorite releases of 2021. The band's brand of pop-punk-glam-blues is the type of music I like to listen to as loud as possible. Every song on this record is a radio-friendly single. After this release, I would like to think that RMBLR is in the midst of a full-on label bidding war. If not, the A&R folks are definitely sleeping on the job.
4. The Natvral - Tethers (Kanine Records)
The Natvral is the new project from Kip Berman from the band The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart. The songs on "Tethers" - Berman's first full length release using The Natvral moniker - are thoughtful and perfectly executed. His performance exudes the confidence of a musician who has something to say and knows exactly how he wants to say it. The result is an old fashioned rock album that reminds me a bit of the solo work produced by Mark Mulcahy (Miracle Legion) or Spiral Stairs (Pavement) - two other indie artists who transitioned from successful bands to resume their careers with solo projects.
LINK: The Natvral's website
LINK: The Natvral on Bandcamp
5. Floating Action - Jinx Protecting (Seth Kauffman)
The prolific and consistently excellent Seth Kauffman returns with his newest Floating Action album. Kauffman is a one man studio band, from Black Mountain, North Carolina, who plays a style of music I call reggae-dub-motown-mountain-folk. Each year brings a new Floating Action record that ever so slightly updates Kauffman's formula and keeps each record fresh and unique. Kauffman's existence as a music industry outsider is a testament to his uncompromising artistic vision. Floating Action has been one of my favorite artists for more than a decade and this release is an album I will love for years to come.
6. William The Conqueror - Maverick Thinker (Chrysalis Records)
William The Conqueror are a guitar-bass-drums rock trio from the UK. "Maverick Thinker" is the their third album and my first introduction to the band. Fronted by vocalist-guitarist Ruarri Joseph, the band plays soulful classic rock with an indie twist. Fans of The Band or John Hiatt should not be disappointed.
7. Paris Texas - Boy Anonymous (Paris Texas)
Paris Texas are a band operating at the boundaries of multiple styles of music. The Los Angeles based duo's music is not rap or rock although at times it sounds like both. Fusing elements from multiple genres, Paris Texas create a hybrid sound that borrows from a wide range of influences. Their unique mash-up of styles results in a alt-hip-hop release that is fresh and original.
8. Witch Egg - John Dwyer, Nick Murray, Brad Caulkins, Greg Coates & Tom Dolas - Witch Egg (Castle Face / Rock Is Dead)
Witch Egg is a five piece instrumental punk-jazz band consisting of two members of American rock band Osees. Their debut album's experimental and improvised soundscapes are both melodic and dissonant. The band uses this contrast to create songs that resonate with depth and texture.
LINK: Witch Egg on Bandcamp
9. Parquet Courts - Sympathy For Life (Rough Trade)
It is hard for me to say where "Sympathy For Life" ranks among Parquet Courts' previous releases. It is a really good record. Is it among the band's best releases? I am not sure. The band is clearly having fun and not taking itself too seriously. In a year plagued by Covid this is definitely a welcome respite. I look forward to seeing the band on tour in April 2022. Parquet Courts are one of my favorite live bands and seeing them do these songs in person will help me clarify my opinion of this record. The band's video for the song "Walking At A Downtown Pace" is my nomination for video of the year.
LINK: Parquet Courts' Website
10. Angélica Garcia - Echo Eléctrico (Spacebomb)
Echo Eléctrico is so different from Garcia's last release that it took me a few listens to get my bearings straight. Once I did, I realized this five song Ep is truly something special. On each track, Garcia creates complex vocal tracks that serve as the song's melodic and rhythmic foundation. Layered on top of these underlying harmonies, Garcia's operatic voice soars above this foundation in what can only be described as a stunning vocal performance. I could be wrong but I don't think there are any non-vocal musical instruments on these tracks until the piano on the album's closer. Everything else is a cappella. If you listen to nothing else on this list, take 4:36 out of your day to listen to Garcia's version of the ranchera music classic "Paloma Negra". You're welcome:-)
11. Virginia Wing - private LIFE (Fire Records)
Virginia Wing is the musical collaboration of Alice Merida Richards and Sam Pillay. They formed in 2012 and are based in Manchester, UK. They describe their music as "... a sprawling amalgamation of experimental pop songs with texture, depth and nuance; that’s daring, progressive and forever bold". I think their music is the perfect combination of weirdness and creativity that I love. Private LIFE was constructed using a diverse sonic palette that enabled Virginia Wing to create an album of truly original music.
12. Eleventh Dream Day - Since Grazed (Comedy Minus One)
Chicago's Eleventh Dream Day have been making great rock records for more than three decades. Add "Since Grazed" to the list. Perhaps more than any of the band's previous releases this recording pays attention to the details. It is a nuanced performance and it is clear that the band made a conscious decision to give these songs room to breath. Five of the album's twelve songs are more than six-minutes long. This gives the record a distinctly unhurried quality that serves the material well.
13. SunDog - Cabin Fever (Dog Yard Records)
On SunDog's Spotify profile the band refers to their music as psychedelic-glam-rock. Who am I to argue? It isn't the description I would have come up with but it works. With "Cabin Fever" the band has crafted an unpretentious record that kicks out the jams over nine tracks of spirited rock music. The band's extended jams generate a trance like quality that envelopes SunDog's sound. They remind me a bit of a contemporary Jefferson Airplane.
LINK: SunDog on Bandcamp
14. Dry Cleaning - New Long Leg (4AD)
Dry Cleaning are an English post-punk band who formed in South London in 2018. They are known for their use of spoken word vocals that Florence Shaw recites with a dead pan delivery. The band plays high-quality guitar oriented jams that provide Shaw with a foundation for her stories and strange observations. The band's formula results in a style that is greater than the sum of its parts.
15. Timber Timbre - I Am Coming To Paris / Dissociation Tapes Vol. 1 (Timbre Timbre)
This entry on my list is actually comprised of two EPs. Timbre Timbre is a Canadian music group featuring Taylor Kirk. Their music is lyrically dark and stunningly beautiful. These two EPs feature spare folk-blues arrangements and somber lyrics that give the songs the cinematic quality of a vintage Western movie.
16. Native Soul - Teenage Dreams (Awesome Tapes From Africa)
Native Soul are two 19-year old electronic music producers from South Africa. According to their label's website the band's music is categorized as Amapiano. "Amapiano is an electronic music movement first created and still most popular in the townships surrounding the major cities of Gauteng province in South Africa. The style borrows from various genres which have been popular in South African townships during and after apartheid, including jazz, folk, afro, deep and tech house, kwaito, dibacardi and others." This melting pot of influences in the hands of two young talents is why discovering new music is so exciting.
LINK: Native Soul Profile on Awesome Tapes From Africa's Website
LINK: Native Soul on Bandcamp
17. Courtney Barnett - Things Take Time, Take Time (Mom+Pop)
Barnett's lyrical-indie-rock-folk works best with good songs and this material compares favorably with her best work. Barnett is a highly skilled songwriter and her ability to tell compelling stories is her greatest strength. The music on this record serves her well by putting her voice out front where the lyrics and her vocals can shine.
18. The Bevis Frond - Little Eden (Fire Records)
The Bevis Frond is essentially Nick Saloman. He makes the records, plays all the instruments, and historically releases many of them on his Woronzow Records label. He is truly a prolific artist and has released a few dozen albums since the late 1980's. "Little Eden" is a good old fashioned rock and roll album with the kind of balls-to-the-wall guitar work that gets an album on my list every-time.
19. Dazy - MaximumBlastSuperLoud (Convulsive Records)
Dazy is a one-man-band featuring Richmond, Virginia's James Goodson. MaximumBlastSuperLoud is a power-pop explosion compiling everything the artist had previously released to Bandcamp. Comprised of twenty-four tracks in 52-minutes this album thrashes thru one quality-lo-fi-pop-song after another. If you like that sort of thing:-)
LINK: Dazy on Bandcamp
20. Rat Columns - Pacific Kiss (Tough Love)
"Pacific Kiss" is the fourth album from Australian musician David West's lo-fi-alternative-pop band Rat Columns and my first introduction to the band. This album has an indie-rock-vibe that should appeal to fans of Vampire Weekend and Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever. This record is good old fashioned indie rock played well and with conviction.
LINK: Rat Columns on Bandcamp
21. E-Vax - E-Vax (Perfect Branch)
E-Vax (aka Evan Peter Mast) is an American musician and one-half of the New York-based electronic rock band Ratatat. When he's not making his own music Mast can be found in the studio producing tracks for some of the biggest names in hip hop including Kid Cudi, Nas, Kanye West and Jay-Z. This self-titled album features percussive-down-tempo electronic music with a diverse sonic palette.
RIYL: Hot Sugar, Ratatat
LINK: E-Vax on Bandcamp
22. Anika - Change (Sacred Bones Records)
Anika is a musician who fuses synths, guitars, and beats with her heavily accented German accent to create sexy downtempo pop music. Anika's songs are bathed in subtle distortion and a lo-fi haze that gives her songs a haunting chill-out-room-in-the-basement-of-a-german-rave quality. This is a record that grew on me over time. As the year progressed it became a favorite.
RIYL: I Am The World Trade Center
LINK: Anika's Wikipedia page
LINK: Anika on Bandcamp
23. PawPaw Rod - A PawPaw Rod Ep (GODMODE)
PawPaw Rod is Rodney Hulsey, a singer and rapper from Oklahoma City. No doubt about it, PawPaw Rod's hip-hop-soul is silky smooth. This four song Ep is a compilation of three previously released singles with the addition of one new track. With lead single "Hit Em Where It Hurts" passing 20M+ listens on Spotify, this talent's next move will surely be highly anticipated.
RIYL: Dem Atlas, Mac Miller
LINK: PawPaw Rod on Instagram
24. Gotham - Gotham (Javotti Media)
Gotham is a new group featuring Talib Kweli and Diamond D - two bonafide legends of east coast rap. If you love Brand Nubian, Smif N' Wessun, Tribe Called Quest, and Mos-Def this album's New York references, old school beats, and fresh-as-fuck verses will sound like home.
LINK: Gotham article in NME
25. Petey - Lean Into Life (Terrible Records)
Petey creates highly personal electro-pop anthems. According to the artist, the material on "Lean Into Life" was born out of self reflection. The songs were written during his tenure at a soul sucking job in the mailroom of a Los Angeles talent agency. The melancholy that envelopes this material reflects the artist's desire to find out if his life has more to offer than a dead end job. His ensuing record deal and new found success answer this question in the affirmative.
LINK: Petey on Bandcamp