It’s August, which means it’s time to take a breather and reflect back on the best records of the year thus far. 2021 has seemed like a sprint instead of a marathon when it comes to new music releases. With many major releases coming out that were pushed back from 2020, and many records marking the return of major artists like Japanese Breakfast and St. Vincent, this year has been wild and unpredictable for music fans. The next few months look really exciting for music, so before we get bombarded with even more major releases, let’s look back on 10 of the best records of 2021 so far.
Tyler, the Creator ‘Call Me if You Get Lost’
Rap savant Tyler the Creator returns this year with Call Me If You Get Lost, a sonic return to the sounds of his early career but with the confidence and experience he’s gained since then. While not as conceptual as IGOR or Flower Boy, this record feels like yet another major step forward for Tyler, and for the genre as a whole. Tyler is one of the most unique and visionary artists of our generation, and yet again delivers a record that pushes his creativity to new heights. The bangers “CORSO” and “LEMONHEAD” rival the major songs of his past, while the genre-fusion centerpiece “SWEET/I THOUGHT YOU WANTED TO DANCE” showcases his ear for world music and experimental production. While he is the star of the record, Tyler manages to get amazing features out of everyone from Lil Wayne, to Lil Uzi Vert, to YoungBoy Never Broke Again. The best rap record of the year by the most eccentric and exciting artist of our generation.
Cassandra Jenkins ‘An Overview on Phenomenal Nature’
This year has been massive for experimental songwriting, and Cassandra Jenkins kicked it all off with her brilliant sophomore record. Released in February, An Overview on Phenomenal Nature is one of the year’s most unique and refreshing records. From great spoken word entries like “Hard Drive”, to pop ballads reminiscent of Lana Del Rey and Big Thief like “New Bikini” and “Crosshairs”, this record truly is something to behold. With killer horn and string accompaniments, earwormy hooks, and passionate songwriting, this record is one that will stay with you long after its epic closing track. Jenkins is definitely a name to pay attention to, as she seems to only get better and better.
Flock of Dimes ‘Head of Roses’
Destined for worldwide acclaim, Head of Roses is perhaps the best rock record you’ve yet to discover. Flock of Dimes, or Jenn Wasner, has delivered the most anthemic rock record of the year. You may know Wasner from Wye Oak, or as a touring member of Bon Iver, but now you absolutely should know her as Flock of Dimes thanks to this dazzling album. “Two” is one of the year’s best synth-pop bangers, while “2 Heads” is reminiscent of singer-songwriters like Laura Marling and Waxahatchee. Wasner proves her dynamic songwriting throughout the record, especially on “Walking” and “Lighting” which showcase her top-notch vocal chops along with gorgeous instrumentation. This is a totally unskippable record, and one that you definitely shouldn’t miss.
Japanese Breakfast ‘Jubilee’
Honest, uplifting, and comforting songwriting. Michelle Zauner’s first record in four years is chock-full of beautiful moments with mesmerizing production and inspiring lyricism, and doesn’t have a single dull moment. Perhaps the perfect record for this summer, Jubilee has some of the most fun bangers of the year with “Be Sweet” and “Savage Good Boy”, along with emotionally charged tracks “Posing in Bondage” and the stellar opening track “Paprika”. Jubilee is the most inspired indie-pop record of the year.
Porter Robinson ‘Nurture’
The most joyful and fun project to come out this year. With Nurture, Robinson delivers some of the most beautifully comforting electronic music ever made. This is the definition of a “no-skip” album, and every track feels completely fresh while staying cohesive with the vibe of the record. From the beautiful opening ambient track “Lifelike”, to the emotional rollercoaster that is “Wind Tempos”, to dance bangers “Something Comforting” and “Look at the Sky”, Nurture has something for every music fan to fall in love with. Electronic music rarely feels as confidently made as it does on Nurture, as every track feels like it was made by someone who purely wants to celebrate music as an art form. Popular Youtuber Anthony Fantano states in his review that “Nurture feels like this generation’s Discovery” – perhaps the most apt description of this record to date.
The Weather Station ‘Ignorance’
Toronto artist Tamara Lindemann returned this year with the most fun and danceable record of her career. With vibes similar to Fleetwood Mac and The Pretenders, Ignorance gave us the best pop-rock record of the year thus far with absolute dance bangers. “Parking Lot”, “Loss”, and “Tried to Tell You” are some of the year’s best and most fun tracks, while the rest of the album is as consistent and cohesive as the greats. Surely the best-mixed record of the year, with impeccable production littered throughout. If you love the music of The War on Drugs, or the great songwriters of the ’70s and ’80s, definitely don’t miss this one.
Mdou Moctar ‘Afrique Victime’
Explosive energy, earth-shattering guitar licks, and comforting harmonies. Those three characteristics sum up what makes Afrique Victime such a powerful statement of an album. Hailing from Niger, Mdou Moctor manages to perfectly blend experimental jazz, bluesy electric guitar playing, and African vocalizations into nine stellar tracks. “Taliat ” is an extremely fun ¾ singalong, while “Asdikte Akal ” showcases Moctar’s intricate and passionate guitar playing. Moctar’s vocals in the Tuareg language are consistently beautiful, as he creates instantly memorable hooks that meld gorgeously with his guitar licks. He shreds so hard on this record, and you definitely don’t want to miss out.
St. Vincent ‘Daddy’s Home’
Always delivering on being one of the most interesting artists of this generation, St. Vincent returned in May with her most conceptual record yet. Inspired by ’70s records like Bowie’s Young Americans and Lou Reed’s Transformer, along with the aesthetic presented in films like Taxi Driver, Daddy’s Home feels like a head-trip through New York City in the ’70s and ’80s. Annie Clark showcases her songwriting talents here more confidently than ever and succeeds to bring her vision to life on every level. Clark has never been as cathartic as she is throughout this record, with tracks “Down And Out Downtown” and “The Melting of the Sun” being some of the year’s best. “Down” is poised to be the next arena-anthem, while “Live in The Dream” sounds like it could’ve been on the major Pink Floyd records of the ’70s. One of the most rewarding musical journeys of the year by one of the most exciting artists of our generation.
Really From ‘Really From’
What does a blend of American Football, Mitski, and Kamasi Washington sound like? It sounds like Really From, and it is glorious. This record flew under the radar of many and deserves endlessly more hype and attention. Featuring some of the best jazz-rock arrangements in years, along with poignant lyrics and beautiful songwriting, this self-titled debut record is one that everyone should be checking out. “Quirk” should absolutely be remembered as one of the best songs of this year, while the trumpet lines throughout “Try Lingual” and “I’m From Here” are mesmerizingly stellar. If you like artsy-rock with a hint of emo and punk, then this record is for you. It’s astounding.
Floating Points/Pharaoh Sanders ‘Promises’
When was the last time you listened to an album that completely changed the game, and floored everyone lucky enough to listen along? It doesn’t happen very often, but Floating Points and Pharoah Sanders did exactly that. This is the grandest musical achievement to come out in 2021. This entire record feels like a landmark in musical history, and without a doubt will be studied and listened to for years to come. Every single moment on this album is magic and is some of the most cinematic and imaginative jazz to come out in years. Sanders’ saxophone playing meshes perfectly with the soundscapes created by Floating Points, and together results in some of the most beautiful music ever created. Promises is a masterwork in simplicity and is absolutely one of the best records of the year. Listen to this record and give yourself this game-changing musical experience, you won’t be disappointed.
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