The album of the year list has become quite a funny spectacle in the last half decade or so. They started off as fodder for debate as to what albums best-defined a given year and in exactly what order, usually just by the handful of music publications who could reasonably call themselves an authority on the question at hand. However our clicks driven & takes based media economy has incentivized everyone and their mother to put together a list, from Good Housekeeping to a good third of the people I follow on twitter. It has also driven those who want to put out the first lists to establish “the narrative” to put them out earlier and earlier in the year. The first notable AOTY list I saw dropped December 5th, basically ignoring the 8.5% of the year’s amazing albums that were released between then and now. I don’t know why the collective media apparatus doesn’t turn January into “last year’s retrospective month” rather than making critical appraisals of a given year a rat race that incentivizes publications to rank albums long before they had a chance to listen to them all. For that reason GSC decided to nobly wait to release this list in January so we could properly assess every album released all the way through the end of the year, and thus this list is really the only true authority on the best albums to come out in 2021. Honestly if you are even reading this deep into this blurb, you either really love this website or really just love album of the year lists. In fact you know what, first person to screenshot this and DM it to the GSC twitter account will get a free hat, and I’ll update this when the hat gets taken so if you see this you still got time (Mike Fish got the hat, you’re all 2000 and late!)
We had our entire team stack rank their top 100 albums of the year in meticulous order and plugged those rankings into a very convoluted algorithm to determine our definitive best albums of the year, and wouldn’t you know it there were a couple ties. Our top 10 albums of the year has closer to 15 albums in it once you factor the ties in and then after that all 85 albums that fell outside of our top 10 came in a deadlocked tie for 11th best album of the year. What’re the odds! Bananas. Then again one album may have fallen through the cracks and snuck in as the last ranked album on the list, but I guess you’ll have to read all the way through to find out. Below is our complete albums of the year list, starting with our number one best album of the year and with any albums tied listed in reverse alphabetical order by artist name. I know that most lists like to countdown to the coveted #1 spot to keep you on your toes but that kinda incentivizes you to be in last place, we’d rather shine the spotlight on the best albums at the top rather than make you scroll for ten hours to find them. You may also notice a significant difference in the quality of the blurbs. Any thoughtfully written blurbs were done by either James Mealy, Mike Polanin, or Josh Ramos. All the half assed blurbs were done by Brendan Higgins, with Josh half assing one or two as well. I just want to be honest with anyone willing to read this much of the intro. Sorry we didn’t include a halfhearted treatise on how it’s been such a rough year and these albums made it better in this introduction, but if you’d like to read one of those go take a look at just about any other albums of the year list that came out last month. Anyway without further ahhh dew….
1 Pray for Haiti / Balens Cho – Mach Hommy
I got it out the mud swear to God!!! Mach Hommy went from underground stalwart to household name with a legendary combination of albums. Nobody rapped harder, put on harder for their community, or turned more heads in 2021 than Mach. The best rapper alive is from Newark, NJ, and he wears a Hatian flag as a mask.
2 Jubilee – Japanese Breakfast
Michelle Zauner is a writer first, musician second. Thankfully she is immaculate at both. On Jublee, Zauner weaves complicated but relatable emotions into some of the best poetry this side of the millennium. While the music is often exuberant, there is a definitive melancholy to her words, something we can all relate to right now as trauma and tragedy feel ever present in the personal and collective conscious.
3 Breakfast / Leash – Little Hag
Little Hag writes music that is as hilarious as it is gutting. “Cum” off her EP breakfast will have you laughing from its opening oxymoron of “a wise respected man, a veteran of the scene” and will have you wanting to knock out his teeth along with Avery by the chorus, in what was my favorite shanty of 2021. “Blood” the track that connects Little Hag’s EP and LP, is among the best rock and roll songs to come out last year, fit with a massive hook that will have you screaming along. I have a feeling that Little Hag will have us laughing and crying along with her music for years to come.
3 Like a Stone – Remember Sports
Remember Sports mixed it up for Like a Stone with band members swapping usual instruments for a handul of tracks. The record is the most cohesive and strongest of their career, as the band continues to build and get more complex with each release. Stand out “Out Loud” climaxes with a cathartic yell and is among the best songs recorded this year.
4 Haram – Armand Hammer
As densely packed as the bars are on Haram, Billy Woods and eulicid’s collaboration with The Alchemist may be their most accessible work yet. Their heady, intense, rapid fire bars are perfectly paired with Alc’s loops and samples.
4 Disco! – Mike
Securing a spot opening for Freddie Gibbs this year, MIKE continues his yearly tradition of dropping an immaculate soul infused hip-hop with traces of psychedelia. MIKE’s domination of the underground rap scene will soon make its way to the masses.
5 With The Shifts – maassai
Its hard to believe that With the Shifts is maassai’s proper solo debut seeing as she has been blessing us with collaborative projects and stand out features for some time. This record solidifies maassai’s spot as among the strongest rappers of the burgeoning NYC underground. Stands out include “Grace Jones” which will have you calling the titular model out along with the chorus, and AKAI SOLO assisted “The Shifts”.
6 True Sky – AKAI SOLO
Navy Blue had a historic production run in 2021 so it is no surprise that his collaboration with one of NYC’s best and most unique rappers conjured a tape like no other. AKAI meditates on the energy you need to put into a project for it to be a success over sparse yet world creating beats, creating an undoubted success in the proces.
7 Casual Use – Jimmy Montague
Casual Use is full of horn and piano laid rock and roll tracks that have garnered comparisons to artists from America to Crosby Stills and Nash to Wilco. Everyone who’s listened to the record seems to agree it sounds like something out of a time capsule, as the album both feels immediately familiar while sounding like nothing else coming out right now.
7 A Series of… Mostly Nothing – James Barrett
Hailing from Scranton, PA, James Barrett’s A Series of… Mostly Nothing is one of the hardest rocking stadium ready albums of the year. His prose is poetic and heart tinged and massive as hell. Highlights include single “Oh My God” and “The Art of Letting Go”.
8 I Became Birds – Home is Where
In 2021 Home is Where invented Fifth Wave Emo and solidified themselves as among its most imporant members. The Bob Dylan inspired punks had the best use of a harmonica in a song since Blues Traveler and will have basements shouting “Hey Sa-MANTHA” for years to come.
9 I GOT BANDZ FOR THE MOONLANDIN’ – Semiratruth
Chicago rapper and producer Semiratruth has been grinding in the NYC underground for sometime but really came into her own on I GOT BANDZ FOR THE MOONLANDIN’. Her soulful and sparse production and strong, heartfelt lyricism will have you tiptoing down the street yelling “MY GAWD”.
10 GLOW ON – Turnstile
There has been a lot of discussion of this album, especially on year end lists. There has been a lot of masturbatory discourse about genre fluidity and yaddayaddayadda. Except it’s not just masturbatory. It’s true. It’s an example of a frustrating life truth: sometimes the most annoying person you know is right.
And holy shit, are they right. This album kicks ass. This shouldn’t surprise anyone who has listened to Turnstile since their big break with 2015’s Non-Stop Feeling but they take Fugazi’s hardcore spirit and grit, and mix it with the anthemic punk of Pennywise, ala ‘Bro Hymn’ on tracks like ‘Holiday,’ and then they bang a left and are doing spacey psychadelic soul grooves with fucking Dev Hynes on ‘Alien Love Call’ later on the same record. ‘Underwater Boi’ has a chugging riff that propels it forward with a steady groove, and ‘New Heart Design’ keeps that same groove, teasing a reprise of the Holiday riff once the distorted guitars break free in the chorus. It’s incredible that the band can maintain that hardcore sound and energy throughout the record and make all the different tonal shifts feel natural and part of the greater whole. Forget what I said earlier, this is the best fuckin album of the year, no question. Disregard it’s ranking. If you listen to one album on this list, listen to this one.
11 Vegas Vic -Zilla Rocca
The Wrecking Crew alum still has it in spades . Zilla drops intricate bars over soulful production, a lot of which he produced himself. Highlights include the self produced “Knife Behind the Smilel” featuring Curly Castro”.
11 Soda Club -YL
YL has been on a career defining tear the past two years and Soda Club may be his strongest release. It combines the soulful stripped back beats of his underground cohorts with the new school sound of the NYC drill scene in a way only the young Chelsea legend could produce. Highlights include “Weezy” and any track with Starker or Papo2004
11 A Billion Little Lights -Wild Pink
Really fun light album, feel like this’d be a great record to see live and bring a date to. Fun and sensitive and swaying and catchy as all hell.
11 Half God -Wiki & Navy Blue
Alright, I’m not citing any sources, but gentrification is bad, right? Wiki agrees and this album is about that. However, I AM the gentrifier, and Wiki is a native-born New Yorker. His lips curl and he snarls at college aged kids in Washington Square park, drunk and disrespectful to the neighborhood’s long time residents; he resents those moving in not just for their diluting of New York City by being there, but also by their complicity in moving out the people with longstanding ties to the area. Wiki champions himself a voice for the true New York, and he makes a good case for it on this album. With Navy Blue’s crate dug loops, Wiki uses a stream-of-conscious storytelling style to hold court and effortlessly weave personal experience with sociological hypotheses.
On top of all of this, at its core, this is a great rap album. Wiki holds it down and shows that he is constantly perfecting a natural but ornate rhyming style, and when Navy shows up to chip in on a verse, the result is a stand out track that I replayed maybe 5 times in a row the first time I heard it. This is one of those rap albums that is unapologetically New York, but is great enough to appeal outside of that specific place. It doesn’t just belong here, it transports you here. Wiki’s album is authentic, but not in an overwrought way. It’s just who he is, and he’s telling you how it is.
11 Ordinary Life -We Are the Union
Ska has always been a red-headed step child when it comes to the overall musical landscape, but even though we are in it’s fourth wave of artists, a key aspect of many artists within the genre is an fun-focused approach to pretty much every aspect of the songwriting. Blaring horns, fast-paced guitars and upbeat lyrics often with a wry twist are omnipresent. We are the Union certainly do provide those within their fifth album, but “Ordinary Life” is so much more than just that. It’s one of, if not the most, sincere and up-lifting albums this genre and this past year have seen. A large part of this is due to lyrical content provided by lead vocalist Reade Wolcott, which details her experience while coming out as a trans woman. She paints pictures of her struggle throughout all of it, but at the same time, reminds us to not give up when doing what you can to find yourself and get the most out of this life we get. It’s clear that this will be one of We are the Unions’ defining moments, and while they all acknowledge how cruel this world can be on this album, they also remind us to celebrate who we are and what we do. That and just try to always remember to dance like you don’t care who is watching to song with a damn good chorus.
11 The Levitation Sessions Live Albums -Various Artists
I listen to a lot of Desert Rock and Stoner Metal (anyone going to DesertFest NYC hit me up!) and in the past couple of years, the live albums put out by Levitation Sessions/Reverberation Appreciation Society have been totally killer. The bands they choose and the sets they play sound great and I haven’t heard a single one yet that I haven’t loved. Give them a shot to find some new bands, or if you just like sweet live records like I do, dig in and enjoy.
11 CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST -Tyler, the Creator
Tyler continues to make his case for the most complete artist in hip-hop right now, if not potentially history. Continuing to push his hip-hop sound into soulful territory, CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST finds Tyler in his Giacomo Casanova era.
11 … illusory walls -the world is a beautiful place and I am no longer afraid to die
This is post-rock. That just means it exists after rock music. And some tracks are very long.
At least that’s what I guess the genre means. What I know is, this album does rock. The final two tracks don’t feel like overlong rock songs, but rather musical pieces with movements. Think ‘exposition, development, and recapitulation.’ I can’t explain to you in a paragraph how emotionally resonant it is, (especially if you’ve listened to them for a long time like I have), to finally hear the World is a Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid to Die actually sing EXACTLY that. They said the name. They finally did it, and to close the record (and maybe their career?) it could not have been any better.
This album is also immaculately produced. It sounds excellent. It’s never muddy and never folds over itself, and it isn’t thin and loud like a lot of other rock music can tend to be. Chris Teti has produced a lot of the World is a Beautiful… records, and this one sounds phenomenal. Greg Thomas, his co-producer, has a background in more metal-adjacent rock music, and maybe that lends to the production, but I’m no expert. It fucking sounds great. Listen to it.
11 Ignorance -The Weather Station
Torinot, Ontario’s The Weather Station put out the best work fo their career with Ignorance.
11 ULTRAPOP -The Armed
Workout music on steroids, this new offering from The Armed is an artful combination of hardcore and harsh noise with enough pop sensibilities to give you something to lift to. Feels like you are adding muscle mass with every spin.
11 The Restless Dreams of Youth -Tamar Berk
Indie music lifer Tamar Berk’s music harkens to the 90s Chicago scene that shaped her music sensibilities. The Restless Dreams of Youth both sounds like it’d fit perfectly in that scene and as fresh as ever, as Tamar applies the wisdom she’s gained in the music scene to the timeless jams. Check out our interview with her here!
11 Bright Green Field -Squid
Another one of those British bands who overcame what should have been an SEO nightmare of a name to have international success.
11 Merry Wickmas 2 – Shawany Bin Laden
Over the past few years Shawny has not only solidified himself as one of the most influential rappers in the NYC drill scene, he’s also showed he’s one of the most consistent rappers alive. Shawny dropped no less than five records in 2021, each with samples and bars more absurd than the last, but Merry Wickmas 2 just dropped so that is the one I am really feeling right now, with the FOUR50 assisted “She Real Right” being a particular highlight.
11 Suburban Indie Rock Star -Snow Ellet
Snow Ellet gets the self actualization award for 2021. While Suburban Indie Rockstar may have been tongue in cheek when they came up with the title, thanks to some catchy as hell pop punk tunes their dreams became a little bit closer to a reality. Now we just need to get “Brick” on the next Tony Hawk soundtrack to set it in stone.
11 Painted Gold -Snacking
It was a particularly strong year for Florida emo this year thanks in great part to a whole bunch of great EP’s, and Painted Gold is among the strongest. I gotta tell you, there was nothing I loved doing more after a long night of drinking when buzzed on the subway than to play “Blacked Out On the Train” and let Snacking take me on home.
11 Another Kill for the Highlight Reel -Save Face
Save Face did a bit of an about face with Another Kill for the Highlight Reel. The Jersey emo rockers eschewed the melancholy of their debut Merci for the most theatrical emo album since The Black Parade. Fit with modern sensibilities, this record has felt like MCR with a touch of glass beach to me since I first heard it, and that hasn’t left my head since.
11 The Romance of Affliction -See You Space Cowboy
A brutal and gruesome metal record from some of the best doing it right now.
11 Dum n Dumbber 3 -RmC Mike & Rio da Yung OG
Alright to be fair, the third in a trilogy is usually weak. Any ‘Return of the Jedi’ apologists, get outta here. RMC Mike and Rio Da Yung OG’s Dum & Dummer 3 however, is more of the exact same thing the last two were: fire.
The first in the series was named Dum and Dumm3r, so don’t get confused, this is Dum & Dummer 3.
However, there really isn’t all that much different here. Mike and Rio are still experts at shit talking, straight faced delivering hilarious lines like they don’t even find it funny themselves. Enrgy and Beats by Sav are here on the producers list, and if you’re familiar with Michigan Rap from the last couple of years, nothing here is going to surprise you or sound brand new. If you’ve heard Michigan Rap in the last couple of years you will want to hear this, because this is the best Michigan tape this year. If you haven’t heard it? Fuck is wrong with you?
11 Juno -Remi Wolf
Catchy as hell and made for the internet, Juno is an album that couldn’t be any more fun.
11 Crime and Punishment -Regional Justice Center
Regional Justice Center began as a catharsis for vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Ian Shelton when his brother was incarcerated , which then prompted Shelton to being crafting an unrelenting dissertation of the corruption present within the prison system and many societal ills face by people in our country. Through raw vocals atop blast beats that then switch to slower and thunderous guitar riffs, Regional Justice Center ensure there is not a wasted second in this LP that clocks in at around thirteen minutes. “Crime and Punishment” stands out from the pack in the powerviolence/hardcore scene with more distinct production on both the vocals and the instrumentation, as well as an album structure that can be clearly broken down into two parts. The first section deals with what aspects of life and our current society as a whole can cause us to make the worst possible decisions, with the second section then addressing the unavoidable consequences of these actions and how that can warp a person. “Crime and Punishment” sees Regional Justice Center place a magnifying glass on real topics that some would rather avoid, and for that reason alone, it is encouraged to be experienced at least once. Though I bet both fans and non-fans of this genre will come back for a second and third spin.
11 We Are Always Alone -Portrayal of Guilt
That was my initial reaction to this record. This is like, black metal and deathcore? I mean. Wow. I’m not going to lie and tell you this is “accessible” if you don’t already dig this kind of music, but to be fair, it sort of is. Far more than their equally great album from later in the year, Christfucker. Still, while this album is less in your face, you’re still going to be gritting your teeth while you bang your head. It’s an involuntary reaction. You have to bang your head.
A lot of bands within the black metal genre, or even just influenced by it, tend to overdo the crushing wave of mid-level guitar churn in a way that just makes their music headache inducing and white-noise esque. Portrayal of Guilt manage to bring that crushing and enveloping guitar noise in a way that doesn’t thin out the mix of these songs, and that leads to a killer record that just might get you into something a little more heavy than that Motorhead song you like from Tony Hawk Pro Skater.
11 Saccrine -Pinkshift
Baltimore rockers Pinkshift came onto the scene in a major way with the tracks on Saccrine. Ska and punk laced tracks like “I’m gonna tell my therapist on you” envoke early No Doubt and made Pinkshift one of the most exciting young bands in indie rock.
11 GUMBO’! -Pink Siifu
Siifu is proving himself to be a once in a generation emcee. GUMBO! Is a testament to not just his massive range as an artist, but the ranges of the talented people he is able to bring into his orbit.
11 Drool -Part Chimp
The edgy rock band from South London you should actually be listening to. Heavy noise rock that is catchy as all bloody hell.
11 AF1MG Live 2004 Vol 3 -Papo2004
New Jersey rapper Papo2004 caught my ear with some stellar features on YL tapes and proved he can more than handle his own on solo efforts with his output this year. AF1MG Live 2004 Vol 3 is a perfect entry point for new fans as Pap shows he can rap over new school shit, samples older than your momma, and everything in between.
11 Sueños de Dalí -Paloma Mami
Great vibes cfrom from to back from the debut album from this Manhattan born and Santiago based singer/songwriter.
11 Gami Gang -Origami Angel
Origami Angel were so successful at bringing back easycore that with Gami Gang they figured they’d throw Bossa Nova in there too for good measure. While the roll out was not as theatrical as Somewhere City’s the music on Gami Gang is as fun and inventive as anything going on in emo right now. Another amazing record from a duo opperating at peak performance.
11 Double Down – Nappy Nina and J Words
On Double Down JWords and Nappy Nina are running the craps table till they get kicked out of the casino, with JWords rolling the dice and Nina calling the shots. JWord’s instrumentals create a distinct vibe that Nina is able to groove right along with. JWord’s sparse, bouncy dance inspired production is a match made in heaven for Nappy Nina’s fast paced flows and straightforward rhythmic cadence.
11 Your Time to Shine -Monolord
This year’s Monolord record, Your Time to Shine, is loud. Every Monolord record is loud. But Your Time to Shine is HOLY SHIT loud as soon as you press play, without it being cacophonous, senseless noise. Sweden’s Monolord occupy a space firmly between the stoner/desert rock and doom metal genres, with crushing riffs and low end interspersed with spacey sections of wah pedal and reverb. This album is less meandering and less marijuana-slow than previous Monolord albums, or their contemporaries in the genre, and the album’s focus is one of it’s strong suits. That’s not to pretend the tracks aren’t long; at 39 minutes across 5 tracks, it’s what you expect from a Stoner metal record, but these tracks are going somewhere, not just fading into the fuzz.
11 A Gangsta’s Pain -Moneybagg Yo
Moneybagg Yo has been steadily releasing music since 2012, gaining traction over the past decade with his Federal and Heartless mixtape series. With A Gangsta’s Pain he maintains for a full album the clarity and voice we have seen in increasingly large glimpses across records like 43va Heartless in the past two years. While Moneybagg Yo is a household name in Memphis, he seems poised now to take the leap that Lil Baby took the past year, becoming a national superstar.
A lot of the best tracks on A Gangsta’s Pain utilize clever flips of famous tracks, such as Moneybagg’s interpolation of Differences by Ginuwine on ‘Hard for the Next’ and Wokesha’s shared sampled with Notorious BIG’s One More Chance Remix and Ashanti’s Foolish. However, Moneybagg’s rhymes stand on their own throughout the album, with relentless flows on Time Today and Clear da Air propelling the tracks forward and making them unskippable. Moneybagg’s sound, molded by Memphis, is similar to many of his labelmates on Yo Gotti’s CMG, including EST Gee and 42 Dugg. As the label recently partnered with Interscope, it’s guaranteed that CMG’s artists, particularly those three, will become the face of southern rap in the coming years.
11 Birth of LoneSword -Lungs
While far from his first solo effort, Birth of LoneSword feels like Lungs properly planting his flag as a solo artist. Its a deep project that shows off both his production chops and his rapping, with more than a handful of underground favorites helping along the way.
11 Home Video -Lucy Dacus
Sometimes I am like “Why isn’t Lucy Dacus bigger? Her new album kicked so much ass and had so many good tracks” and then I go on Spotify and see that every track has over a million spins. Guess she is doing fine after all lol.
11 HEY WHAT -Low
30 years later the boys still got the juice! You love to see it.
11 TOO LITTLE TOO LATE -Lord Jah Monte Ogbon
Charlotte’s Jah Monte Ogbon continues his hot streak with TOO LITTLE TOO LATE. He takes his rapping into double time over producer of the year Navy Blue’s sparse and soulful loops, a combination as unimpeachable as PB&J.
11 Sometimes I Might Be Introvert -Little Simz
On her fourth album the UK rapper wrestles with fame and its many pitfalls with some of the best rapping to come out of that side of the Atlantic Ocean this year.
11 Laura Stevenson -Laura Stevenson
Laura Stevenson first entered my consciousness way back when I was in middle school and Jeff Rosenstock’s Bomb the Music Industry! was in constant rotation. She went from exclusively being their keyboardist around 2008/2009, with her first solo record, “A Record,” and a split with The Cans. It wasn’t until 2015 however that her album Cocksure pushed her out from behind the shadow of Rosenstock and I saw that she really rocked on her own.
Following a Rosenstock-Stevenson Neil Young Collab project, her self-titled sixth record channels much of that laid back songwriter rock, and quickly became one of my go-to records this past year. The album is once again about navigating relationships, but with more of an introspective and reflective feel than past records, and a bit more biting self-deprecation and blame. The one-two punch of ‘Sky Blue, Bad News’ followed by ‘Mary’ may be my favorite song sequence of the past year. Stevenson is not overly flowery in her lyrics, but in a grounded way can bring you right into the middle of an argument, or the car ride afterwards where she wonders if the mess is one she made all on her own. Listen to this album if you like other singer-songwriter/indie rock; this may have slid right under your radar.
11 Fatigue -l’rain
On her second album as L’Rain, Taja Cheek continues to bring the ethereal airy pop jams that will linger in your subconscious for days to come.
11 Out in the Ether -Kevin Devine
Kevin Devine has been able to make a living for himself as an artists in the modern age by carving out a lane on Patreon. Out in the Ether are the first ten tracks from an otherwise Patreon exclusive album, and show he hasn’t missed a step behind the paywall.
11 A Martyr’s Reward -Ka
Brownsville’s finest showed yet again why he is among the most gifted storytellers and rhymers in rap right now. A unique talent operating in his own stratosphere.
11 Little Oblivions -Julien Baker
Julien Baker finally made an album you can play out loud on your speaker system and not feel like you’re in an episode of Grey’s Anatomy. Look, you can still listen on your headphones, sure; I know you paid good money for those nice Audio-Technicas or Sennheisers, etc. but really, this album has a full band (even though I think Baker played most parts herself). So play it out loud.
That’s not to say it isn’t sad. It is still firmly in the realm of sad indie rock, but it is not oppressively sad acoustic music anymore. Baker is still an excellent songwriter and she’s very plain spoken, which makes a lot of the emotional release of the songs hinge on the dual denouement musically and lyrically. ‘Song in E’ is the exception to the rule, where a lone piano accompaniment makes it stand out in stark opposition to the rest of the tracks, where Baker turns the blame on herself for her substance use disorder, and asks those in her life to treat her the way she feels she deserves to be treated, because “it’s the mercy I can’t take.” It’s haunting, it’s sad, it’s perfect for Grey’s Anatomy. But the rest of the album hits those same emotional peaks while having a fuller sound.
Alright maybe it’s still Grey’s Anatomy music, but it kicks ass okay? She’s a great songwriter.
11 Complacency -Johnny Football Hero
An emo band from Philly with an athletics inspired name? And they sing about mental health and have twinkly guitars? You had me at hello!
11 Relish the Good Times / John Cozz & His Stinky Feet -John Cozz
Coffee Roaster, amatuer skateboarder, and musician John Cozz had one of the strongest creative outputs of his career with his two 2021 EPs. Relish was more of his traditional pop punk sound with “Take a Walk Dude” and “Italian Meats” standing among the catchiest songs of his career. On Stinky Feet he opted for a country twang, which was a pitch perfect fit for his unique timbre.
11 Twenty Years Gone: Joel Plaskett Emergency Revisits Down at the Khyber -Joel Plaskett Emergency
Back in late 2000, early 2001, Joel Plaskett formed a backing band to complete his first full band record following the dissolution of his canadian alternative rock band, Hermit Thrush. While he had put out a solo acoustic record in ‘99, this was Plaskett’s attempt to continue on making music, which he had decided would be his career. The resulting album, Down at the Khyber, is killer alternative rock, with Plaskett’s sharp songwriting buoying the record and foreshadowing a formidable career as a college radio staple.
In late 2020, Joel got the urge to revisit this first record and re-record, with his longtime drummer, and both the bassist currently in his backing band Emergency, as well as the bassist who originally played with him on that first record twenty years ago. The result is, in a year with two Taylor Swift re-recordings, a record that shines up all the good of that debut and represents it as a lost classic. Plaskett’s voice is more capable without losing too much of his whine, and his rerecording better accomplishes his original vision of a low-budget Zeppelin-esque rocker. While not as savvy a financial move as Taylor’s re-recordings, this record strives not to replace the original, but rather to become a complement to it. A fine complement indeed.
11 Wallflowers -Jinjer
In 2017, Jinjer’s ‘Pisces’ video began to circulate online on blogspots and metal forums, eventually finding itself viral on youtube and social media, due not only to the song rocking (it does) but because of the novelty of a female vocalist, Tatiana Shmayluk, alternating between clean vocals and brutal growls. A few years before, civil war had begun to brew and then boil over in Ukraine, including in the Dontesk region from which Jinjer hails.
Now, In 2021, after a year of a global pandemic and continued civil war, and threats from Russia hanging over their homeland, Jinjer have returned with an album that is far from a novelty. On this record, the riffs are loud and heavy, and the rhythm section locks into grooves that call to mind the best tracks of Sepultura’s ROOTS. The clean vocals here are sharp and bright and cut through to the front of the mix, and the growls lose none of their ferociousness. There’s a lot of groove, a little sludge and jazz, and something for everyone. It fucking rocks. Let it knock your teeth out. Listen to Wallflowers by Jinjer.
11 Heaux Tales -Jazmine Sullivan
Jazmine delivered for the girlies with some of the most inspiring R&B right now. This empowering album has hits front to back.
11 Coming Down -Jail Socks
Jail Socks split duties and seemed to have a lot of fun with Coming Down. Everyone got some singing in and they made some amazing tracks in the process, with some of the catchiest music of their career.
11 oddkin -ioulus
Danish singer and producer ioulus doesn’t need much time to get your attention. Her 16 minute debut oddkin has the weight and impact of records four times its lenght, with glitches that’ll keep you on your toes.
11 Let Me Do One More -Illuminati Hotties
Illuminati Hotties is finally free and still has more to say. Let Me Do One More has the meticulous balance of someone who has more than a handful of impressive production credits to her name, and is Tudzin’s most dynamic and rewarding album yet.
11 Mood Valiant -Hiatus Kaiyote
The Aussies kept bringing the funk with this new record. Another set of jams from a group who knows how to put em together.
11 Internet Breath EP -Hey, ILY!
Don’t let the fact that Caleb Haynes crafted the entirety of Internet Breath on his iPhone cause you to underestimate this EP. Its combination of glitched 8 bit emo pop and genuinely savage hardcore makes for a combination unlike anything else streaming today.
11 You’re Being Weird -Halogens
With You’re Being Weird, NJ emo rockers Halogens live up to the expectations set by their stellar run of EPs. This is a collection of stellar emo-pop tracks that could get a coffee shop or a basement rocking.
11 God’s Hate -God’s Hate
I think the common reaction to this abum was that no one truly anticipated the devastating left-hook-out-of-nowhere it was going to be. I think it was fair to say that everyone in hardcore already knew of the assault of thunderous insturmentation and ear-splitting vocals they could produce. That kind of comes with the territory when your band is comprised of members of Twitching Tongues and a lead singer that is an imposing and world-travled professional wrestler. However, they go even further than those expecatatios with this self-titled EP, in a way that is both suffocating but also motivational to the listener. Lead vocalist Brody King roars at the listeners with the cry of “Life is hard. Be harder!”, while also providing some of the more personal lyrics in this band’s discography so far during the album. This album has informed the scene of one thing. Be it other bands or fans at the show, you better be prepared for mayhem if God’s Hate is on the bill.
11 if i could make it go quiet -girl in red
girl in red became known for their bedroop pop musings and came into their proper pop form with if i could make it go quiet. Big and bold and worth your time.
11 An Unexpected Reality -Gatecreeper
To open up the past year, GateCreeper released an album designed to pummel you into submission, and then crush you to death. The first seven songs are just over six minutes of breakneck thrash and speed metal. Once this thing takes off, there’s no putting on the brakes. Don’t listen to this in your car; you’ll get a speeding ticket. Your reward for holding on? A heavy and crushing doom/sludge metal ender that closes out the album for the final 11 minutes. If metal isn’t your thing, fair enough, but if you like things on the heavy side, this will scratch that itch.
11 In Spite Of -For Your Health
One really fun thing to do when listening to the hardcore stylings of For Your Health is imaginging Steve Brule listening and going “oh jeez, they sound angry!” Ruthless and cutting and entirely essential.
11 Promises -Floating Points & Pharoah Sanders
We saw this one on like every other AOTY year list and didn’t wanna get left out. Gave it a spin and it is indeed p solid.
11 Between the Richness -Fiddlehead
“Between the Richness” sees the Boston-based quintet returning to paint a picture of being on a lifepath fraught with both fear of the unknown and yearning for past feelings that never seem to come fully back. The album is a concise and dense effort by the band to both show that path and how aging affects us all differently, a concept that is supported furthered through vocal performances by Patrick Flynn that sing out of “twenty-something soap operas” and of a love that “forever lives on but is gone”. The album sees several tempo changes in the track list, while still never quite losing the driving force seen in both the melodic chords and tight drumming. All in all, the album is a rare breed in both modern hardcore/hardcore adjacent music, in the fact that it seems to ebb and flow almost perfectly while you journey through it.
11 I Know I’m Funny Haha -Faye Webster
Faye Webster got her break signed to Father’s Awful Records about a year or so after Playboi Carti left the label for A$AP’s AWGE. Now, Faye Webster does not make music like Carti, or just about anyone else on Awful, but even in the years since she left, her sound’s percussion and R&B influences point to a distinctive tie to that Atlanta scene. Also she sings about crushing on an Atlanta Braves player.
Webster’s music is moody and twangy, with a lot of lap pedal steel, but never straying too far from pop and R&B into country, leading to a sound reminiscent of Flying Burrito Brothers; a sound Gram Parson’s coined “Cosmic American Music.” This feels like the natural descriptor for Webster’s music, combining all these seemingly disparate influences to create a soft spoken and emotional album whose self-deprecating humor and self-awareness seem chiefly of the American 21st century. “In a Good Way” is a clear sing-a-long hit, but there is no weak track on this record. It’s the best record of the year. No contest. Ignore the number at the top of this write up.
11 FacultEP -Faculty
If you haven’t heard of this band yet, it’s because no one has.
The debut EP from Post-Punk/Pop-Punk NYC band Faculty was recorded live in-studio at WFUV, and you’re the first person to listen to it. Sometimes they sound like The Strokes, sometimes they sound like Television, and sometimes they don’t sound like anything. Standouts like Something Else Against You finds Vocalist/Guitarist Hugo screaming his voice hoarse on verses and Vocalist/Guitarist Nils cutting in on the chorus with a Husker Du sing-a-long.
Elsewhere on the tape, there are finely crafted pop-punk songs that never feel slick or shiny, reminiscent of early college-era Dinosaur JR, Pixies and R.E.M. Ill at Ease and Dog Person will be stuck in your head for days, not just due to the catchy melody, but from the locked in rhythm section of drummer Aidan and Bassist Khadijah and if you live in the NYC area and have an opportunity to see this four-piece live, you have to go. It’s your duty.
11 Sensational -Erika de Casier
While her voice never gets louder than a hush, Erika de Casier carries a lot of weight on Sensational. This collection of 90s and 2000s inspired r&b are among the best tracks of her career.
11 Unscrew My Head -Ekulu
Given the fact I started my dive into heavier music with thrash metal, I will always have a soft spot for anything either within or adjacent to that style. In a year where we saw many notable albums that pushed the envelope of what can or can’t be hardcore, Ekulu comes in with an album that will satisfy almost every fan of this genre by blending crossover elements with thundering NYHC-inspired delivery. However, its never done in a way that seems overblown or unnecessary, just a band that grabs you by the throat and doesn’t let go as you immediately picture that grinding build in a track that explodes into moshing and stage dives. Like frantic guitar work? Like squealing divebombs? Like driving vocals? Then you’ll love “Unscrew My Head”. Plain and simple.
11 New Long Leg -Dry Cleaning
Another one of those British bands who overcame what should have been an SEO nightmare of a name to have international success. It is here because someone who didn’t wanna write about it nominated it.
11 PROOF -Downhaul
If I could get it funded I’d love to make a movie version of PROOF soundtracked by the album about the scene going on in the cover. A massive cinematic album that is among the band’s strongest efforts. Highlights include the massive double feature of an opener “Bury” and album closer “About Leaving” which started off as lead singer Gordon Phillip’s new years resolutions, as is further detailed in our interview with the band.
11 NCL-DøøFus 2: SWAMP PHONK -DøøF
NCL Tim and DøøF keep the chemistry they exhibited on last year’s Hoodrat Noir going with SWAMP PHONK. Døøf feels like Roc Marciano melded with the late MF DOOM, with an intricate deadpan flow and enough references and inside jokes laid into his lyrics to keep you coming back listen after listen.
All the best music comes from New Jersey, so nobody was suprised when 18 year old DLTZK invented Dariacore and revolutionized online music with his two releases Teen Week and Frailty. Somewhere between 100 geccs and Modern Baseball.
11 Absolutely -Dijon
Absolutely builds on the ground that Dijon set with last year’s How Do You Feel About Getting Married? putting forth some of the best music of his career.
11 The Color Blue -D2X
Chicago rapper D2X came onto the scene strong with The Color Blue, easily his most cohesive and strongest statement as an artist to date. The tape is full of basketball inspired bars about the come up over soul tinged instrumentals, with “Day Job” being a definite highlight.
Hackensack, NJ’s finest has carved an impressive lane for himself and hasn’t dropped a bad verse in ages. He particularly went off on YDFWC 1&2. Higinlights include “Juan Pan” on 1 and “Montel Williams” on 2.
11 Love Suite -Contour
With Love Suite, Contour leaves you feeling like you are in a dream, sitting right there at that dark rose lit bar with him, sipping whisky and listening to him philosophize on the many ways we should and often fail to love one another. It is a hazy and hypnotic body of music that leaves you wishing you could push last call back so Contour could keep serenading you, for at least another song or two.
11 Last of the Better Days Ahead -Charlie Parr
In the fall, I tend to listen to a lot of Blues and Folk music, because I miss the more rural place I grew up, and it reminds me of my Dad, sitting and watching tv and playing blues licks effortlessly and mindlessly. Charlie Parr has been making fantastic blues and folk records for a long time now, both acoustic and plugged in, and on this year’s Last of the Better Days Ahead he reflects back on a lot of those years and unravels what it means to be older and consider the memories that shaped us and the longingness to go back.
While many artists reach an older reflective age and ideas of mortality begin to bleed into their work and wash it in a solemn gray, none of the songs here feel morbid or navel gazing. Through both acoustic and plugged in blues tunes, Charlie Parr delivers excellent lyrics and can transport you from that big city you’re living in, to that little farm town you grew up in.
11 The Visiting Years -Celebration Guns
In my interview with the band, lead singer Justin Weir mentioned how happy he was to be involved with Chillwavve Records and how inspiring the new generation of emo bands was to a DIY lifer like himself. With The Visiting Years Celebration Guns showed why they’re among the strongest bands of their cohort. Give this a listen if you like twinkly guitars and soaring choruses with plenty to shout along to. The song “The Visiting Years” is transcendent, and just feels like the kinda thing that’d be playing in The Bait Shop on The OC.
11 Downtiming -Camp Trash
As a writer the best thing that happened to me this year was Sophie’s Floorboard linking thru to my interview with Camp Trash, so I’ll forever be indebted to the band for putting together this kick ass EP and causing that to happen.
11 Bo Jackson -Boldy James x The Alchemist
Alan the Chemist will be coming up a lot in this list. With Bo Jackson he and Boldy were two performers opperating at the peak of their powers.
11 Cavalcade -black midi
Me and my little brother Liam, who had no familiarity with the band going into the concert, saw black midi perform Cavalcade live and it was without a doubt the best concert either of us went to last year. Massive and theatrical and ambitious in the best way.
11 For the first time -Black Country, New Road
One of those new British bands everybody likes, tbh if you are reading this list you probably already heard this album and know why it’s good. Everyone and their mother wrote about this band so google them if you haven’t.
11 How Long Do You Think It’s Gonna Last? – Big Red Machine
Given who is involved in Big Red Machine and who they get to perform on these records I am always shocked that this band isn’t a way bigger deal. Great folky haze from a talented bunch who seem to be having a good tome putting this together. Maybe they’re tryna ask how long the mojo will last? Regardless this is a fantastic collecition of tracks.
11 Talk Memory -BADBADNOTGOOD
On their first record with XL, the Canadian group goes back to their instrumental roots to soaring success.
11 TY4FWM -ALLBLACK
AllBlack first hit my radar with the KennyBeats produced 2 Minute Drill EP. Last year’s No Shame 3 continued his furious mixtape run, where AllBlack crams punchlines, embarrassing asides, and slick pimp narratives all into the same song with the infectious energy to pull it off. This is what TooShort must’ve sounded like to people in 1989. No Shame 3 had some standout features from some Bay Area rappers, but this year’s TY4FWM (shorthand for Thank You 4 Fuckin Wit Me, his signature, wholesome adlib) trades them out for a wider array of features, including Sada Baby, Vince Staples, E-40, G-Eazy, and Drakeo the Ruler (RIP) among others.
On this tape however, the features water down AllBlack, the real star of the show. On a lot of tracks I found that his guests couldn’t match his ferocious energy, and aside from a standout verse from ShooterGang Kony and a dependably hilarious Sada Baby verse, I found myself just wanting more AllBlack. Still, this album is fun, it’s funny, and it’ll make this winter feel like the summer if that’s what you need to get through it. Here’s looking forward hopefully to another tape once the warm weather hits the Bay this year.
11 Don’t Know What I Am -Alien Boy
Portland’s Alien Boy cemented themselves with Don’t Know What I Am, an album full of jangly unforgettable hooks coated under exactly the right amount of reverb.
11 The Death of Me / Printemps in Vogue – Alice Dreamt
Detroits strangest and most interesting bedroom pop musician followed up their stellar 2020 album The Weretched World with a pair of worthy successors in The Death of Me and Printemps in Vogue. Off kilter, psychedelic pop unlike anything else you’ll hear this year or any year.
100 Daddy’s Home – St Vincent
I know, we were equally shocked that this album didn’t end up tied for 11th place like almost every other record on this list, but it turns out St. Vincent’s Dad was on our board of voters and hasn’t been exactly chipper about the album’s coverage. He “abstained from voting” on the record, which led it to lose a tie breaker and end up in 100th place. But hey, better than no inclusion at all, right?