24 Best Albums of 2021

Let’s be blunt: like 2020, 2021 sucked. However, not for music. Out of the ashes of the past two years we are seeing some of the best music in decades — you just might not be hearing it if you are listening to the radio or your friends Spotify lists. Here is our list of 24 best albums of 2021.

[24] “Sleaford Mods” by Spare Ribs

“Sleaford Mods” by Spare Ribs

What the critics say: “Spare Ribs is perhaps the band’s high watermark, a searing masterpiece of social commentary, childhood memories and recovered trauma, scathing wit, punk energy, funk, and hip-hop influences, and much more. This is a record with no fat and no filler.” – PopMatters; “Here’s your prescribed dose of reality with an unmistakable and intoxicating Sleaford Mods flavour. The extraordinary ‘Spare Ribs’ is graffiti on a concrete wall; there’s no manifesto, no easy answers and nowhere to hide.” – NME

What we say: A contemporary take on the B’52s, Sleaford Mods is just as fun, just as funny, and just as worthy of your attention. 

Song we listened to the most: “Mork n Mindy (Feat. Billy Nomates)” 

[23] ‘I Don’t Live Here Anymore’ by The War On Drugs

‘I Don’t Live Here Anymore’ by The War On Drugs

What the critics say: “There’s magic everywhere you look on this triumph of an album.” – NME “The War on Drugs have continuously grown into fuller and more realized versions of themselves. I Don’t Live Here Anymore is fitting for their newest form: revered musicians with over a decade of quality music under their belts who never lost sight of the prize.” – Paste; “I Don’t Live Here Anymore is The War on Drugs’ poppiest, most bombastic work yet.” – Spin

What we say: A showcase of range in a pretty nostalgic album. 

Song we listened to the most: “I Don’t Live Here Anymore” 

[22] “Jubilee by Japanese Breakfast

Jubilee by Japanese Breakfast

What the critics say: “It takes all the things that have always served Japanese Breakfast well — Zauner’s awareness of her voice and how best to deploy it, her knack for narrative and story as well as great hooks — and offers them fresh soil in which to grow.” – Variety; “‘Jubilee’ finds its creator older and wiser with melody, lyrics and storytelling pulling focus in a fashion that cements Michelle Zauner as a true creative force to be reckoned with. From here on out, Japanese Breakfast can go anywhere and we’ll follow.” – DIY; “Her work is built around the truths of her perspective, not just that each song and its themes resonate with her, but that every tragedy offers nuance to life. Zauner has given us her strongest album yet and so far, the best album of the year.” – Glide

What we say: Pop music can be good. Really good. 

Song we listened to the most: “Be Sweet”

[21] “Vince Staples” by Vince Staples 

“Vince Staples” by Vince Staples

What the critics say: “It’s not easy to write an album about yourself without seeming egotistical, and it’s also not easy to write one which touches on themes of gang violence and poverty without falling into braggadocio or morbidity. On this album, Vince Staples has pulled off both. It may be a short album, but it’s an incredibly deep one.” – Clash; “Staples called this his most personal record yet. Perhaps it’s this new vulnerability that makes the album so great. Or maybe it’s the whip-smart one-liners. Or the vivid storytelling. Staples will say this latest triumph is just a dude doing some different things.” – Independent; “Vince’s knack for combining brevity and sly wordplay, together with Kenny Beats’ restrained production, make the album particularly lucid from start to finish.” – Rolling Stone

What we say: It’s not “Big Fish Theory” but that is not a bad thing. “Vince Staples” will age exceptionally well as one of the better Hip Hop Albums of his generation. 

Song we listened to the most: “ARE YOU WITH THAT?”

[20] “New Long Leg”  by Dry Cleaning

“New Long Leg”  by Dry Cleaning

What the critics say: “Dry Cleaning have a sound that is as singular as it is dazzling.” – The Observer; “New Long Leg may not always be positive, but it’s more interesting than that, more needling and necessary. It’s everything at once, a record that absorbs and spits back the unending noise of the world and asks that you take a second look, every common thing somehow made brand new.” – Exclaim; “Dry Cleaning have far more talent than they do irreverence. How satisfying, then, that where Miller was one and done, they’ve only just gotten started.” – No Ripcord

What we say: Florence Shaw’s spoken word is just so damn cool. 

Song we listened to the most: “Strong Feelings” 

[19] “They’re Calling Me Home” Rhiannon Giddens

“They’re Calling Me Home” Rhiannon Giddens

What the critics say: “This is a big, beautiful album, a showcase for direct, punchy emotions and Giddens’ vocal versatility. She trained as an opera singer and executes astonishing levels of beauty and control on Monteverdi’s Si Dolce è’l Tormento and When I Was in My Prime, a folk song previously covered by Pentangle and Nina Simone.” – The Guardian; “While this work may not be as riveting and stunning as its predecessor, due mostly to the familiarity of many of the tunes, that dynamic cuts both ways because there are few interpreters as adept as Giddens for traditional fare. Also, the remarkable musical chemistry between the duo just continues to grow.” – Glide Magazine

What we say: Music may feel from a different time, but it is very much so of 2021. 

Song we listened to the most: “Waterbound” 

[18] “Bright Green Field” by Squid 

“Bright Green Field” by Squid 

What the critics say: “An uncompromising debut that fulfils every ounce of the band’s potential” – NME; “Here, they embrace vulnerability, taking time to address modern issues (read: symptoms of capitalism), while also imbuing a real sense of fun, artistic merit and instrumental democracy in the record’s 11 tracks.” – Exclaim 

What we say: A fun, interesting and exciting debut album. 

Song we listened to the most: “G.S.K”

[17] ‘Seventeen Going Under’ by Sam Fender 

‘Seventeen Going Under’ by Sam Fender

What the critics say: “Seventeen Going Under is an album rooted in 2021 that, in spirit at least, seems to look back 40-something years, to the brief early 80s period when Top of the Pops played host to the Specials and the Jam. The result is really powerful.” – The Guardian; “His thoughtful truisms and sonorous songwriting arm them with the required soundtrack. To quote the man who started it all, “The great challenge of adulthood is holding onto your idealism after you lose your innocence.” No one has risen to this challenge with such success, humility, and brilliance as has Sam Fender.” – Pop Matters

What we say: Fender often gets compared to Harry Styles, but that would be doing a big disservice to Fender, who deserve more recognition. 

Song we listened to the most: “Seventeen Going Under” 

[16] “Drop for Every Hour” by Amigo the Devil 

“Drop for Every Hour” by Amigo the Devil 

What the critics say: “ As much Tom Waits as Roy Orbison, both Amigo the Devil and Born Against expertly navigate the twisted path between a metaphorical heart on a sleeve and real live beating one bloodying up his flannel.” – The Austin Chronicle; “And yet, beneath the quirky veneer shared by his warped alter-ego, there’s a crafty cleverness that lingers just below the surface while still managing to shine.” – American Songwriter 

What we say: It’s dark. It’s dramatic. It works. 

Song we listened to the most: “Murder at the Bingo Hall” 

[15] “Long Lost” by Lord Huron 

“Long Lost” by Lord Huron

What the critics say: “It’s not only his best (yes, even better than Lonesome Dreams), but also his lushest and most emotionally absorbing. Acoustic guitars shimmer like diamonds on the surface of a still lake, while Ben Schneider’s melodic verses echo a magical blend of nostalgia and romance.” – Sputnik; “Despite its 16 tracks, not once does Long Lost feel crowded. The pace is unhurried, the phrasing exquisite” – Independent; “Agreeable yet melancholic and peppered with moments of cinematic Lynch-ian weirdness, it’s the purest and most satisfying distillation of Lord Huron’s pastoral folk-pop to date, and the perfect soundtrack for a road trip to nowhere.” – AllMusic

What we say: As haunting, honest and exquisite as you’d expect from Lord Huron 

Song we listened to the most: “I Lied” 

[14] “One Foot in Front of the Other” by Griff 

“One Foot in Front of the Other” by Griff 

What the critics say: “The Hertfordshire musician enters her golden period with a flawless debut mixtape” – NME‘ “A joy to listen to, full of crisp production, clear and emotive vocals, and genuine superstar presence – 2021 could well be Griff’s year.” – DIY; “What’s remarkable about this seven track mixtape is the sheer consistency of pop ideas on offer.” – Clash

What we say: Sure it’s a mixtape and not “technically”man album, but “One Foot in Front of the Other” may be the best pop album of 2021. 

Song we listened to the most: “Black Hole”

[13] “The Myth of the Happily Ever After” by Biffy Clyro 

“The Myth of the Happily Ever After” by Biffy Clyro 

What the critics say: “Deconstructive, deliberate and exquisitely designed, The Myth Of The Happily Ever After is the sound of a world-class band making truly world-class music. The only thing more exciting than every bar of its 11 songs is the promise of where Biffy Clyro might go next.” – Kerrang!; “Eleven tracks that brilliantly capture the turbulence and dysfunction of the past eighteen months.” – DIYThe Myth of the Happily Ever After is an exceedingly pleasant surprise. Not only does Biffy Clyro sound more inspired than ever – both lyrically and musically – but there is also a noticeable return to so many of the things that made this band so likeable from its onset.” – Sputnik

What we say: Fans of Biffy Clyro were not disappointed with “The Myth of Happily Ever After,” because it felt true to the band: unpredictable, intuitive, and natural. 

Song we listened to the most: “A Hunger in Your Haunt” 

[12] “Collapsed in Sunbeams” by Arlo Parks 

“Collapsed in Sunbeams” by Arlo Parks

What the critics say: “Arlo Parks’ rise feels very timely indeed. Her music is like a warm hug, a reassurance that everything is going to be OK when the world is dark and things seem out of control. True to form, her debut album is a sanctuary of compassionate lyricism and groove-along tunes.” – NME; “The questions it asks — what does caring really look like, how do we show one another kindness when we’re angry, how do we show ourselves kindness when we’re upset or hurt or numb — are essential ones, and we’re lucky we have Parks to guide us through them here.” – Consequence of Sound

What we say: A poignant debut album by the British songwriter and poet. Parks is an extraordinary lyricists that is just beginning. 

Song we listened to the most: “Hope”

[11] “Nine” by Sault

What the critics say: “It’s pretty special too. … If a sense of discomfiture has run through all Sault’s albums – they challenge, seethe and weep, confound expectation, change tack abruptly – there is never a sense of a misstep.” – The Observer; “Delivering powerful, confrontational lyrics and messaging in the context of angular, innovative R&B.” – Variety; “Masterful in its softness of touch, Sault know when to apply and relieve pressure; at moments it can be intense, yet others are bathed in a beatific R&B halo. Easing the project outside the confines of those two excellent – and definitive – releases, ‘Nine’ is the point where Sault turn back towards the sun.” – Clash

What we say: “Nine” can easily be our number one album, and we applaud Sault for doing something different, however by only allowed 90-days of streaming for “Nine” the album is just not approachable enough (because you can’t listen to it anymore unless you downloaded it when it was available or bought the Vinyl) to be in our top 10. 

Song we listened to the most: “Bitter Streets”

[10] “Valentine” by Snail Mail

Valentine” by Snail Mail

What the critics say: “Lindsey Jordan is far from the first person to have her heart broken, but “Valentine,” her remarkable second album as Snail Mail, is alive with such crackling and revelatory emotion that for about 32 minutes it allows you to suspend disbelief and imagine — well, what if she is?” – The New York Times “Throughout this impressive and dazzling album, 22-year-old Jordan examines every facet of young passion: the joy, confusion, possessiveness, rage, and surrender, all resulting in a volatile yet thoughtfully composed work.” – A.V. Club; “A record as hopeful as it is bittersweet.” – DIY

What we say: There are lots of albums about heart break this year (check out #8 and #5), but there is something about Snail Mail that makes pain feel so alive. Jordan is confident in her delivery as we are confident in “Valentine” being one of 2021’s best. 

Song we listened to the most: “Ben Franklin” 

[9] “Call Me If You Get Lost” by Tyler, The Creator 

“Call Me If You Get Lost” by Tyler, The Creator 

What the critics say: “The result is a dense, kaleidoscopic album that might take a lot of time to fully unpick, but clearly isn’t going to diminish in quality if you do so.” – The Guardian; “The blatant dichotomy between emotiveness and almost blind arrogance peppers nearly every track, shedding even more light on who Tyler is beneath the surface.” – HipHopDX; “Yet the evolution on display on “Call Me If You Get Lost” is more elemental; he’s rethinking what kinds of stories he wants to use his music to tell and how much of himself his success obliges him to reveal.” – Los Angeles Times

What we say: It might be better than IGOR (don’t @ us) 

Song we listened to the most: SWEET/ I THOUT YOU WANTED TO DANCE ( feat. Brent Faiyaz & Dana Hues) 

[8] “30” by Adele 

“30” by Adele

What the critics say: “Adele has never sounded more ferocious than she does on 30—more alive to her own feelings, more virtuosic at shaping them into songs in the key of her own damn life. It’s her toughest, most powerful album yet.” – Rolling Stone; “an album that meets the breach with enough wrenching, life-and-death drama to leave you completely spent by the time its hour is up, then ready to immediately reinvest.” – Variety; “breaking out of her mold to deliver the richest and most musically adventurous album of her career.” – A.V. Club

What we say: It’s Adele. 

Song we listened to the most: “I Drink Wine” 

[7] “The Moon and Stars” by Valerie June 

“The Moon and Stars” by Valerie June 

What the critics say: “June has never sounded more fully and thrillingly herself than she does on her latest album, The Moon and Stars: Prescriptions for Dreamers, which merges pop ambition, folksy open-heartedness and blues wisdom.” – Rolling Stone; A standout among her already impressive catalog, The Moon and Stars is utterly beguiling with a luster that only deepens with repeated spins.” – All Music; “The Moon And Stars feels a more fully realised project, more wide-ranging and self-assured than its predecessors.” – Uncut

What we say: June who appears on our Best Albums of 2017 list, is back with another profound masterpiece. There is no voice quite like Junes. You can say she has the voice of an angle but no way do any angels sound as beautiful as June. Her voice cuts deep, and brings us back to those hot summer days where time stops and everything feels better. And right. 

Song we listened to the most: “You and I”

[6] “Blue Weekend” by Wolf Alice

“Blue Weekend” by Wolf Alice

What the critics say: “‘Blue Weekend’ is an album that revels in its feelings. The dynamics are constantly shifting, often moving from tender sparsity to luxurious sonic opulence in the same song, but everything feels like the absolute peak of what it could be; the highs soar higher, the riffs are gnarlier and by closer ‘The Beach II’ you’re left with an album that’s audibly chosen never to shy away from any second of potential. Majestic.” – DIY; “Truly establishing themselves as the bright possibilites of guitar music, and blurring lines along with setting new ones out, ultimately with Blue Weekend, Wolf Alice continue to be the very essence of what is to be a band while also remaining – more importantly – human.” – The Line of Best Fit

What we say: There are no fillers in “Blue Weekend.” Song after Song is packed with Stellar instrumentals and lyrics. Fans have been awaiting this album and Wolf Alice exceeded their expectations. 

Song we listened to the most: “Smile”

[5] “Heaux Tales” by Jazmine Sullivan 

“Heaux Tales” by Jazmine Sullivan

What the critics say: “Though brief, with a runtime of just over 30-minutes, the EP shows Sullivan crafting a complete constellation of love and loss.” – Rolling Stone; “‘Heaux Tales’ is schematic, a successor to didactic concept albums like ‘The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” and the visual version of Beyoncé’s “Lemonade.’ – The New York Times; Heaux Tales unfurls a patchwork of origins, outcomes, thrills, and disasters of coital indulgence in her most cohesive work to date.” – Pitchfork

What we say: A personal, beautiful, concise EP that highlights Sullivan’s strong vocals and songwriting capabilities. Love and loss can be a powerful, yet overused inspiration, but “Heaux Tales” is unique. 

Song we listened to the most: Pick Up Your Feelings 

[4] “Glow On” by Turnstile 

“Glow On” by Turnstile

What the critics say: “Three years on, as they release their third full-length record, ‘GLOW ON’, even the ‘punk’ term now feels too restrictive: this is an album that shuns almost any traditional categorisation, and is all the more thrilling for it.” – NME; “It’s a fearless album that doesn’t bow to genre conventions, establishing Turnstile as the present and future of rock music.” – Consequence Heavy; “Across 15 tracks, the Baltimore hardcore group widen their scope without losing sight of what made them so intriguing to begin with” – Paste

What we say: The Baltimore hardcore Turnstile is back to tell you that hardcore punk isn’t dead, and after eleven years, Turnstile is only getting better. And yes, there is an appetite for punk; it can be mainstream again. What makes Glow On work is how versatile it is, taking influence from alt-rock, grunge, emo-pop, and a little R&B, but at the end of the day, this is a punk album it is more than welcomed. 

Song we listened to the most: Blackout 

[3] “We’re All Alone In This Together “ by Dave

“We’re All Alone In This Together “ by Dave

What the critics say: “Anyone who was captivated by Psychodrama will find much of the same on the successor – articulate, politically aware rap, featuring Dave’s classically trained piano.” – musicMOH; “WAAITT is a compelling, conscious-jolting account of a life of two halves.” – Independent; “We’re All Alone In This Together truly lives up to the quality expected of Dave’s sophomore album and cements him in time as a fallible but even more forthright voice of UK culture.” – The Line of Best Fit; “At its core, We’re All Alone In This Together is a meticulously constructed, well-balanced rap album. It’s an important landmark, placing Dave high in the best rappers under 25 conversation.” – HipHopDX

What we say: The following three albums on this list can easily all be our number one, and they all come from the same place in the world. After winning the 2019 Mercury Prize and winning Album of the Year at the 2020 Brit Awards, Dave got many who weren’t paying attention to British Hip Hop. So it is mind-blowing that he followed up what might be one of the greatest albums of all time, with one equally as prolific, but that is the genius of the 23-year old Dave. Dave is the most influential British rapper today, and there is an excellent case that he is the greatest rapper working today. Period. 

Song we listened to the most: Twenty To One 

[2] “Sometimes I Might be Introvert” by Little Simz

“Sometimes I Might Be Introvert” by Little Sims

What the critics say: “If ‘GREY Area’ saw Simz come-of-age as a rapper, ‘Sometimes I Might Be Introvert’ is Simz making her first long-lasting artistic stamp on the zeitgeist.” – DIY; “In a time where we find ourselves craving nuanced intelligence, 27-year-old Simbiatu Ajikawo knocks it out of the park with her cool, collected rumination over a series of varied grooves” – Independent; “Sometimes I Might Be Introvert remains an exciting addition to the North Londoner’s growing catalog. Now, if only the rest of the industry would take notice.” – A.V. Club

What we say: After reigning supreme with GREY AREA (our #1 album in 2019), Little Simz follows up with what might be her most ambitious and electrifying yet. A nineteen-track album can easily get lost, but not “Sometimes I Might be Introvert,” which is methodical and never wanders from the message. This album could easily be our #1 album; we were torn. 

Song(s) we listened to the most: Women (feat. Cleo Sol) and Point and Kill (feat. Obongjayar) 

[1] “Conflict of Interest” by Ghetts

“Conflict of Interest” by Ghetts

What the critics say: “Cinematic in scope, movingly honest, with a phalanx of big-name guests, Justin Clarke’s major-label debut is a dazzling piece of storytelling” – The Observer ; “‘Conflict Of Interest’ could sit on the same shelf as Dave’s ‘Psychodrama’ as an album that depicts honest tales of London through the art of true lyricism, a tradition that will never die out.” – NME “Conflict of Interest feels like the work of an artist who’s in it for the long haul rather than short-term rewards.” – The Guaridan

What we say: “Conflict of Interest feels a lot like Dave’s Psychodrama (our #2 album of 2019 ) and is grime at its best, drawing influence from London dancehall and hip hop. With guest appearances from Stormy, Dave, Septa, Wretch 32, and Giggs, there is a lot here with little fluff. 

Song we listened to the most: Mozambique (Feat. Jaycee & Moonchild Sanelly) 

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