Holy shit, 2021 crazier than a feral hog binge watching Twin Peaks. In the world of music, the natural flow of album releases was upset by the pandemic, with many artists pushing releases to coincide with a touring schedule that was pushed to the last few months of the year, or into ’22. Nevertheless, a lot of excellent music was released, and here are my top 10 albums of 2021.  

10. Courtney Barnett – Things Take Time, Take Time

CB’s latest came out at the end of the year, at a time when new releases can get buried.  Makes one wonder why we just disregard 1/12th of the year in favor of looking back at the year.  Don’t sleep on December, y’all.  I know I will delve into this album more this year, but can already tell it rewards repeated listenings.

9. Tyler, The Creator – Call Me If You Get Lost

The titans of hip hop these days often lack the weirdness that made the genre great.  I dig Drake, but his albums feel like products to sell, more than musical statements.  Kanye is fine but is beginning to remind me of later day Prince, where his output longed for a muse or editor who would reign in his “let’s release a two hour album” instincts.  There are times when Tyler’s music is barely hip hop, but his artistic oddness puts him at the table with the best MCs around.

8  Jon Batiste – We Are

I wouldn’t have thought a light nite bandleader would’ve made my top 10, either.  But We Are is just so damn fun and funky, a ray of sunshine in a dark world.  Makes me long for the days when I had young kids and would do anything to play some quality “real” music for their stuffed animal dance parties.

7  Lucy Dacus – Home Video

There’s a slyness to Dacus – her vocals are often serene and angelic, but her lyrics slay.  “Thumbs” is a perfect example.  A sparse track of atmospheric synths under a protective lover’s yearning to kill a neglectful father, via an eye gouging no less…Whoa.  

6. St Vincent – Daddy’s Home

When I scan other music publications’ best of the year lists, there always seems to be an album that is criminally low on their list.  Daddy’s Home kicks off Rolling Stone’s Top 50, coming in at 50…WTF.  This album extends Ms. Clark’s musical flexibility, jumping from the Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams” line in “Pay Your Way To Pain,” to the Floyd-esque “Us Vs Them” quality of “Live In The Dream”.  The howl at the end of “…Pain” is everything.

5. Arlo Parks – Collapsed In Sunbeams

The 2021 Rookie Of The Year.  Psyched to see where young Ms Parks takes us.

4. Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats – The Future

My argument for Nathaniel Rateliff remains the same – if he was a product of the 70’s singer songwriting movement, he’d be at home with the Van Morrisons, Bruce Springsteens and Jackson Browns of the era.  However, Rateliff is no nostalgia act.  The Future continues his run of excellent releases.  If the closing “Love Don’t” doesn’t get your toes tapping and head bobbing, seek medical attention.

3. Leon Bridges – Gold-Diggers Sound

If my top 10 this year was a fabric, it would be cashmere – filled with warm, comforting feels to ease my anxious heart.  Counter programming to a pandemic fueled dystopia, perhaps.  At the center of that warmth is Leon Bridges.  His Gold-Diggers Sound, named after a friend’s recording studio, is all feeling and vibe.  Fluid and powerful, GDS equals and at time exceeds the stellar modern soul of Bridge’s previous album, the excellent Good Thing.

2. Yola – Stand for Myself

In a world where album listening has been largely replaced by playlists, it’s refreshing to listen to an LP from start to finish without a dud in the bunch.  Depending on which way the wind blows, #2 and #3 on my list can be swapped, but for now here’s to this powerful vocalist from Bristol who sounds like she could be a product of Muscle Shoals, Alabama.

1. Adele – 30

When I was in high school I remember being a bit embarrassed of my fandom of Bruce Springsteen.  Bruce was at the top of his game, with record sales in a stratosphere only reached by the superstars of the 80s, but in the eyes of my classmates it wasn’t cool to be a Springsteen fan.  I feel a tinge of that listening to Adele. In a typical year, the middle of the Venn diagram between what I listen to and artists who launch their album with an Oprah TV special is a blank space.  But there’s a surprising sense of adventure on 30, coupled with an emotional honesty that feels raw and genuine, not designed for inspirational quotes on a Pinterest board. This is Adele’s Blood On The Tracks, and I’m not embarrassed to say I find it fascinating.

Listen while you read!