Much like 2020, 2021 has been a wash for a number of reasons but one of them is NOT for music. Year after year many move through the cycle of holiday exposure, uplifting moments with family & friends, as well as solemn or melancholic emotions. One thing we couldn’t avoid this year was the astounding amount of political rhetoric across the media spectrum moving frantically across phones, tablets, television sets, and computers. I think it’s clear, we’d all like a reset back to when it didn’t overtake our lives, and friendships weren’t dictated by political leanings or cult-like fervor. We all yearn for the days when music & art leveled the playing field and while year may have been another loss in the cultural upheaval around us, it’s the music created that gives us the clarity we needed.

As with every year, the writers here – Tommy Johnson, Nathan Conrad, Kane Adams, Diego Flores, Dan Severin – went through a number of albums by artists that are simply amazing and sometimes defy classification. There were many that didn’t make the list and there were tough decisions but we went narrowed it down to our Top 100.

CHRIS CONDE – Engulfed In The Marvelous Decay (Fake Four Inc.)

Creating one banger of an album, Chris Conde is a force to be reckoned with. He’s released a number of stunning albums, E.P.s, and singles, and Engulfed In the Marvelous Decay (Fake Four Inc.) is no different. This album though delivers fiery tracks filled with incendiary lyrics balanced by heady melancholia & emotive tracks. Conde move seamlessly from angry to offering up his more sensitive side.

DAMU THE FUDGEMUNK – Conservation Peace (Def Pressé)

We have to sometimes wonder if some artists receive enough praise for what they do. I’ve never felt Damu has received the right amount of respect due for an artist of his caliber but with Conversation Peace (Def Pressé), that’s all changed. This was the first in the KPM Crate Diggers series and he went digging deep and came out with 9 solid tracks of hyped-up boom-bap to include an assortment of emcees.

NAS – King’s Disease II / AZ – Do or Die II

Here’s a 2 for 1 based solely on the fact that it’s almost impossible to tell which album is better. Do these rappers even age? I don’t believe they do yet their skill levels on the mic are that of the gods…that being said, they have been practicing for damn near 30+ years and that equals timeless in my books. 

MELVIN GIBBS – 4 + 1 Equals 5 For May 25 (Northern Spy)

If you have no idea who Melvin Gibbs is, maybe you should do your research, but if you don’t, just be aware, he’s a talented musician with over 200 appearances on a multitude of albums. Some music aficionados will probably remember him from his stint in the Rollins Band but Gibbs is much more than that as 4 + 1 Equals 5 For May 25 (Northern Spy) is a testament to. He collabs with producer/lyricist Kokayi in tribute to George Floyd and his death. Loads of experimentation, stunning guitar work, and depth.

LUNG – Come Clean Right Now (Sofaburn)

With drums and effected cello, the art-punk rock duo LUNG delivers an unlimited supply of beauty beneath the grime and sludge of its music. Come Clean Right Now (Sofaburn) is the culmination of all classically trained opera singer and cellist Kate Wakefield and drummer/percussionist Daisy Caplan have hinted at, with power matched by soft & alluring harmonies and compositions that are unmatched in fervor.

QUICKSAND – Distant Populations (Epitaph)

Some have come to expect a lot from the New York band but it seems Quicksand has become comfortable where it now stands as an influential post-hardcore outfit that it is. The latest album Distant Populations (Epitaph) isn’t forceful or in your face, instead offers gorgeous atmospheric soundscapes surrounding stormy melodies. It’s unexpected and meticulous.


It’s difficult to believe that this is only his second album but then again Danny Elfman has always found himself occupied with scoring films, other projects, etc. With Big Mess (ANTI), the next generation gets a taste of what the former Oingo Boingo frontman is capable of. The album is noisy and filled with an innumerable amount of twists and turns. Guitars, orchestra… Big Mess has it all!

LIARS – The Apple Drop (Mute)

When a group mutates, it’s usually an evolution of its sound. What began as post-punk experimentation back in 2001, has morphed into an astute rock band with The Apple Drop (Mute). While the band has continued to fluidly experiment, the band’s music has become larger than life.

JULIEN BAKER – Little Oblivions (Matador Records)

This album holds up about the same as her last two efforts but there’s a touch more production on this outing and it’s still effective when you want to drown yourself in your own tears of self-doubt paired with life’s incessant confusions.


NOW is an interesting album, filled with collages of sound accented by samples, loads of soulful vocal harmonies, and haunting rhythms that are unrelenting. Damon Locks and his Black Monument Ensemble have created possibly one of the greatest bodies of work of our time.


As far as pop albums go this year, Har Mar Superstar’s Roseville surpasses any and all expectations. An artist that always marches to the beat of his own drum, his soulful melodies are found here alongside harmonies, a smattering of horns, piano, synths, and just about everything else. The tracks throughout the album are delightfully gorgeous.

MOGWAI – As The Love Continues (Temporary Residence)

With the latest, As The Love Continues (Temporary Residence), Mogwai has proven it could withstand the test of time, with unrelenting post-punk instrumentals, clear & clever over a bed of pop nuances that are infectious. Almost 25 years performing and 10 albums in, Mogwai is quietly positioning itself to be the greatest band in the world.

PEARL CHARLES – Magic Mirror (Kanine Records)

THIS! If 70s era pop songs are your thing, Pearl Charles’ Magic Mirror (Kanine Records) is what you need. If majestic pop songs are your thing, Pearl Charles’ Magic Mirror is what you must have in your music collection. Don’t be fooled by any half-hearted comparisons, her third album radiates brilliance from beginning to end.

th1rt3en – A Magnificent Day For An Exorcism (Fat Beats)

Everyone knows or should know, who Pharoahe Monch is. NYC emcee with prowess unlike any other. for th1rt3en’s debut release, A Magnificent Day For an Exorcism (Fat Beats), he teams with fantastic guitarist Marcus Machado and drummer extraordinaire Daru Jones. This is the thematic turning point where Hip-Hop meets rock, the culmination of years of evolution. thi1rt3en reached that level like no other.

R.A.P. FERREIRA – bob’s son: R.A.P. Ferreira in the garden level cafe of the scallops hotel (ruby yacht)

Ferreira doesn’t just release an album through happenstance; everything always seems deliberate but never feels calculated. That’s what we get with the album released at the beginning of the year. The wordsmith delivers fluent poetry from beginning to end and while his delivery moves leisurely, it’s never lazy or sluggish. A genius in his own right.

7-11 JESUS – Tree Dream

The west coast via east coast trio 7-11 Jesus released a charming indie-pop release in Tree Dream, the band’s 2nd or 3rd album, depending on who you ask. Varying dynamics, distorted guitars, catchy rhythms, and gorgeous melodies; what more could you want in a band?

CITIZEN – Life In Your Glass World (Run For Cover Records)

This one may come without saying but Michigan’s Citizen has never disappointed and with its latest and fourth studio release Life In Your Glass World (Run For Cover), it’s more of the same. They’re a pop band wrapped in mechanical rhythms with heavy-handed rhythms and captivating melodies.

HACHA DE ZOLA – East Of Eden (Black Caballo)

Somewhere in this great big world of ours, someone’s in need of East Of Eden, one of this year’s standout releases by J Hacha De Zola. The soulful, morose escapades throughout the 10 tracks here are filled with captivating deliveries and instrumentation. It’s majestic in its own right.

JUAN COSBY – Quantum Foam

Beatmaker Juan Cosby, returns following up 2019’s Immortal Jellyfish with the expansive Quantum Foam. His skewed & cinematic beats feature an assortment of vocalists and emcees like Chris Conde, Audley, Happy Tooth, Eyenine, Sole, Spoken Nerd, Margaret Darling, and more.

XIU XIU – OH NO (Polyvinyl Records)

Throughout the years we’ve seen the evolution that Xiu Xiu has gone through its development. The band has reached the pinnacle of its existence with OH NO (Polyvinyl), an album rich and textured, unlike anything we’ve heard before. Jamie Stewart’s quivering voice is the one constant that always remains. It’s his voice that’s the band’s signature but not everything the group is about.

JOHN SHARKEY – Shoot Out the Cameras (12XU)

Australia by way of Philadelphia’s John Sharkey III – formerly of Clockcleaner – released an unassuming album with Shoot Out The Cameras (12XU), filled with acoustic & electric guitars giving way to haunting melodies. Sharkey’s monochromatic delivery from song to song is perfection.

DARK TIME SUNSHINE – Lore (Fake Four Inc.)

Onry Ozzborn and Zavala have released one of the greatest albums of 2021, hands down, period, signed, sealed, and stamped. Phenomenal word wizardry paired with wavy ass production that is unmatched by almost anything heard this year.

ADRIAN YOUNGE – The American Negro (Jazz Is Dead)

Composer, musician, documentarian Adrian Younge released a challenging project with The American Negro (Jazz Is Dead), not because he’s not able to translate his ideas into music but because white America isn’t ready for it. It’s beautiful, it’s calculated, it lets off an energy all its own. They’ve never been ready for it.

KIWI JR. – Cooler Returns (Sub Pop)

The next step for Kiwi Jr.: world domination! The Canadian outfit is only two albums in but with its sophomore release Cooler Returns (Sub Pop), it blends together indie rock symmetry with classy skewed pop with a catchiness that’s endearing and utterly fascinating. The band never strays from its formula that’s been perfected through two albums.

BREEZE BREWIN – Hindsight (Matic Records)

The struggle is real but with Hindsight (Matic Records), Breeze Brewin’s debut solo release, it’s tightly wound through clever metaphors and direct lyricism. The Juggaknots member creates a free-flowing album here, with multiple producers but still allowing cohesion from track to track.

LEANDRUL – Psychosis Of Dreams (Handsmade Records)

Psychosis of Dreams: One of the most beautifully made albums of 2021. Is it folk? Is it electronic? Is it fucking phenomenal? Yes to everything. Worth going back to again and again and again. 

THE HOLD STEADY – Open Door Policy (Positive Jams/Thirty Tigers)

Craig Finn’s voice has its own signature, and while The Hold Steady has shared similarities to Springsteen in the past, I must reiterate, with Open Door Policy, this is now Springsteen. The band has embraced rock classic-isms but holds tightly to its post-punk days of years past. This album is amazing.


It should go without saying Juliana Hatfield is a master songwriter. Even from her earliest days with Blake Babies, everyone seemed to know, the songs she writes are those of legend. With her 19th full-length solo release, Blood, Hatfield shows no point in slowing down. Pop perfection.

PIXEL GRIP – Arena (Feeltrip Records)

Chicago’s Pixel Grip is changing electronic music from the ground up. While the music is delivered with sexual freedom, it isn’t sexualized for the sake of sex alone. With Arena (Feeltrip), the band takes back its power and drops it right on the dance floor. Pixel Grip is that trio of musicians that will not be denied.

DIAMOND LUNG – Jeweler’s Loop (FilthyBroke Recordings)

The duo of Brycon/Lightbulb brings back the heyday of producer/emcee with Jeweler’s Loop (FilthyBroke Recordings) with classic beats, melodic lyricism, all tightly wound within the eleven tracks on this album. It’s a banger from start to finish.

KENNETH WHALUM – Broken Land 2 (Secretly Canadian)

On Broken Land 2 (Secretly Canadian), Kenneth Whalum takes us to church with his soulful delivery, but also walks with us through these gentile streets. R&B is wafting from the rafters of every building Whalum walks past, with his music set as the soundtrack to these lost streets.

LOVELORN – What’s Yr Damage (6131 Records)

The Philadelphia duo Lovelorn just is! No other band does what they do. An electronic band melding in a number of styles & genres, blended together into something wonderfully unique. With What’s Yr Damage (6131 Records), the band pulls from decades past, revealing itself, and fitting snuggly alongside its contemporaries.

JOHN – Nocturnal Manoeuvres (Brace Yourself Records)

This year hasn’t seen anything as powerful as JOHN, sometimes known as JOHN (TIMESWTO). the band released its Nocturnal Manoeuvres (Brace Yourself Records), a hard-hitting display of sonic dexterity matched with melody and power. The two-member outfit lacks absolutely nothing.

BRONX SLANG – Substance (Fabyl Records)

Straight out of those Bronx streets is Bronx Slang, delivering its sophomore release with Substance (Fabyl Records). Jerry Beeks and Ollie Miggs are quick-witted, utilizing metaphors throughout, volleying rhymes back and forth to one another, all over beats produced by the UK’s Fake Blood & Jadell. Listen to both their albums and thank us later.

runnner – Always Repeating (Run For Cover Records)

If you don’t know, runnner is always tender in its delivery of songs. Album after album, multi-instrumentalist / songwriter Noah Weinman delves in with a variety of instruments (banjo, trumpet, guitar, harmonica, etc.) and pulls out an array of magical sounds. On Always Repeating (Run For Cover) it’s no different, as his skills have become noticeably crisper.

M.A.G.S – Say Things That Matter (Take This To The Heart Records)

Elliot Mags performs as M.A.G.S, where he takes his unadulterated guitar pop and splatters it with colorful nuances of imagery and vibrancy. There’s a punk ethos that’s undeniably but his guitar shimmering throughout with its pop stains that stand out.


In 2021, there isn’t anything that sounds remotely like BLK ODYSSY, and BLK Vintage (Alpha Pup) is smothered in thick beats, Hip-Hop and R&B. ODYSSY sings through the darkness and finds solace in the brightness at the end of the tunnel. This!

MAC MCCAUGHAN – The Sound Of Yourself (Merge Records)

Whether it’s Portastatic or Superchunk it doesn’t matter, McCaughan has found himself releasing over 20 albums throughout his career and is a clever songwriter in his own right. With the new The Sound Of Yourself (Merge) we all get what we’re familiar with, wrapped in the beauty of his songwriting.

ROB SONIC – Latrinalia (Sky Pimps)

It’s the return of Rob Sonic with his latest offering in Latrinalia which means inscribed markings made in latrines, which makes me think of CBGB in its heyday (Those were pretty gross.) Its meaning isn’t lost on many, the humor through Latrinalia is evident at many turning points but it’s forever Rob Sonic’s production that allows the artist’s lyrics to burst at the seams.

F.A.B.L.E. – (I’M)MORTAL (CulturePower 45)

When F.A.B.L.E shouts “Bury the old me, can somebody pass me a shovel?” on the opening “Yahweh’s intro,” we understand there’s something special here. (I’M)MORTAL (CulturePower 45) simply hit differently with its poignancy and directness. F.A.B.L.E.’s delivery and lyricism from beginning to end offer up that heat, that directness, never oversimplifying but still allowing everyone to understand in layman’s terms.

MOOR MOTHER – Black Encyclopedia Of The Air (ANTI- Records)

Hip-Hop is where Moor Mother exists within for the most part but she far outreaches the grasp of just one genre. Black Encyclopedia Of the Air (ANTI-) allows Moor Mother to relate with her audience, through rhyme and reason but the poet controls words as anyone is able to pour a cup of coffee. She is in sync with words on another level altogether.

LOW – Hey What (Sub Pop)

Low has weathered the test of time, constantly evolving or naturally reinventing itself. With the band’s new Hey What (Sub Pop), they’ve accomplished that feat yet again. Still present is the band’s superb harmonies and with over 25 years recording together and releasing 13 albums, the Sparhawk/Parker clan has fine-tuned its sound filled with loops, effects, and melodies that no one could ever mimmick.

COLLEEN GREEN – Cool (Hardly Art)

She delivers the goods. Every time. She’s unassuming. That’s her gift. With her fifth album, Someone Else (Hardly Art), Colleen Green has a simple formula but there’s nothing simplistic about her music. She writes nimble-fingered pop songs, swiveling around lost harmonies and pitch-perfect melodies. That is her way.

WORK PARTY – My Best Days Are Behind Me

Loud. Brash. Noisy. Those are three words anyone can describe Chicago’s Work Party as, but there’s more to the band than just three words. There’s energy, sublime melodies, and yeah, they’re fucking loud, brash, and noisy AF! Yes, it’s everything we could ever want but right now, it’s what we need.

illuminati hotties – Let Me Do One More (Hopeless Records)

When you thought things couldn’t get any better with illuminati hotties, you were wrong. With Let Me Do One More (Hopeless), Sarah Tudzin, the brain trust behind the project, creates punchy, power-pop-punk within every track here.

XENIA RUBINOS – Una Rosa (ANTI- Records)

While she hasn’t been completely silent since the release of her last full-length Black Terry Cat, Xenia Rubinos returns with a new set of songs that are mind-blowing. Songs on Una Rosa (ANTI-) are both in English and Spanish as she fully embraces who she is while also shifting instrumentation use.

SPOKEN NERD & JUAN COSBY – Grapes (Audio Recon)

The meeting of musical minds with Spoken Nerd & Juan Cosby on Grapes (Audio Recon), an album rife with lyrics & beats worth their weight in gold as artists like Darko the Super, MC Homeless, E-Turn, as well as others, are invited to share the glory.

GYPSY MAMBA – Culpa EP (FilthyBroke Recordings)

The Culpa EP (FilthyBroke) comes as a surprise as California’s Gypsy Mamba weaves a web of atmospheric subliminal rhythms along with thick distinctive beats. This is a kaleidoscope of sound.

JAGUWAR – Gold (Tapete Records)

The German band that should be a favorite of many, Jaguwar has gone heavy on its shoegazing aspects but this time around it takes a backseat to pop sensuality. Gold (Tapete) is filled with one infectious track after another as vocal harmonies do nothing to mask amazing songwriting.

LA LUZ and ADRIAN YOUNGE – S/T (Hardly Art)

For this self-titled release (Hardly Art), La Luz glides through 12 tracks, guided by producer Adrian Younge. For this release, the band’s sound is thickened and each movement is deliberate and precise. Still present is the band’s signature cooing vocals and majestic harmonies but it’s the music all around that’s beautiful.

DEERHOOF – Actually, You Can (Joyful Noise Recordings)

It’s been over 25 years into the band’s existence and with its 18th proper album, Actually, You Can (Joyful Noise), the band seems to be scratching the surface of what it’s capable of with its pop experimentation. There really shouldn’t be any debate that the band’s latest album should solidify its status as one of the greatest rock bands in the world. Universal takeover is imminent.

ICKY REELS – Plips (Tygr Rawwk)

The brainchild of Adrian Bertolone, Icky Reels literally makes listeners stand to attention and ask “What the literal fuck?” Plips (Tygr Rawwk) is filled with breakbeats but it isn’t all about just breakbeats. It’s odd experimentation; a collage of sounds to move you on the dance floor or allows one to chill at the bar. It’s colorful and devastatingly unique.

AESOP ROCK x BLOCKHEAD – Garbology (Rhymesayers)

Many have been waiting for a new Aesop release accentuated with Blockhead’s beats. Their works in the past have become the things of legend and now with Garbology (Rhymesayers) we’re hit with something we’re familiar with but completely new.

COMMON GRACKLE – Old Dog New Tricks Who Dis (Fake Four Inc.)

The forceful Common Grackle (Factor Chandelier & Gregory Pepper) returns with a subtly charming Old Dog New Tricks Who Dis (Fake Four Inc.). The music is alluring and Pepper’s voice is striking. There’s humor and sadness but there’s beauty as well.

THE COATHANGERS/L.A. WITCH – “One Way Or Another” / “Ghost On The Highway” (Suicide Squeeze)

East meets West, as we have two bands, The Coathangers and L.A. Witch covering songs by Blondie and the Gun Club respectively. Coathangers devour Blondie’s “One Way Or Another” and spit it out as their own while L.A. Witch channels the ghost of Jeffrey Lee Pierce!. Easily the best covers I’ve heard in some time, if not ever.

REFUND DIVISION – In The Altogether

After 11 years, Tusla, Oklahoma’s Refund Division release its debut album following its 2010 debut EP. Seems it was worth the weight because In The Altogether is an indie rock beast of an album. This is quite the discovery.

FACS – Present Tense (Trouble In Mind)

Is there any doubt that the monolithic FACS is probably Chicago’s thickest trios? The rhythm section is unrelenting as noise surrounds the band’s constructs, always leading songs to their inevitable end. Present Tense (Trouble In Mind) is fascinating in that way.

DAMIEN JURADO – The Monster Who Hated Pennsylvania (Maraqopa Records)

Jurado is a singer/songwriter that takes his songs as far as they can go; whether with electric instruments or acoustic doesn’t matter. What matters are the songs he delicately pieces together, much like on The Monster Who Hated Pennsylvania (Maraqopa)

CESCHI – This Guitar Was Stolen Along With Years Of Our Lives (Fake Four Inc.)

Every time Ceschi makes a new album, it’s included in a top “insert number here” list somewhere. This year he’s got two albums that made that list. The Folk Punkesque This Guitar Was Stolen… and the Dream Pop/Indie Alt-Rock gem known as Deadpan Darling. 

BARRY ADAMSON – Steal Away EP (Mute)

Former Bad Seeds, Birthday Party, and Magazine member Barry Adamson drops an EP’s worth of material, Steal Away (Mute), that isn’t long enough. It’s a bit of a tease. Adamson is a pop songsmith that’s able to write a song in so many different ways.

BYSTS – Palace

Brian Holbrook and Stefanie Marlow are the ones behind the LA-based BYSTS and while they’ve been known to run through noisy excursions in the past, with Palace… they continue to do so but everything is concise in delivery. The band’s psych-rock is a cascade of guitar effects, soulful dueling vocals, and amazing rhythms.


ROADRUNNER is the group’s most ambitious record to date.  This album is stacked full of great features and a diverse tracklist full of beats that will provoke all sorts of feels.  The opening track features Danny Brown over a beat that sounds more like the Neptunes than anything Brockhampton has ever done.  The Light hits hard with a guitar-driven track as the group raps about their struggles.  I feel like I discover something new about this album every time I play it.

RID OF ME – Traveling (Knife Hits)

The highly anticipated full-length debut by Philadelphia’s Rid Of Me is what we’ve all come to expect, and then some. Guitars, high energy, loud pummeling rhythms, and infectious melodies the CDC wouldn’t be able to contain. Traveling (Knife Hits) is an album that defies expectations.

J COLE – The Off-Season

J Cole has never forgotten where he came from and this point is made obvious with The Off-Season as he tackles some southern bangers with bar after bar of intensity.  Cole will make you question your own hustle as his raps are a motivational testament to hard work.

TYLER THE CREATOR – Call Me If You Get Lost

Tyler is back with hard-hitting raps and videos that would make Wes Anderson take notes.  The beats on this record are cohesive and paint the picture of the perfect travel mixtape.  Tyler brings a quality tracklist on this one, from the playful banter of WUSYENAME to the intensity of Lumberjack. 

PETEY – Lean into Life (Terrible Records)

Tik Tok indie rocker Petey has graced us with 2 incredibly dope albums this year, Lean into Life and Other Stuff.  I am falling in love with Petey’s thoughtful raw style as he embraces his listeners with passion and honesty.  He belongs on a tour with Alex G and Modest Mouse.  I discovered Pete’s music through his hilarious Tik Tok videos.  

RICKOLUS – Bones (Terrible Records)

Bones opens up with Beach Town which serenades us with memories of Rick’s youth in Jacksonville sung over a groove that reminds me a bit of Thin Lizzy.  This record is his catchiest to date and I can’t stop listening to it.  Bones is a great rock and roll record that reminds us of simpler times.


Darko the Super is one of the most prolific emcees in the underground right now.   His latest is a collaboration with the New Jersey-based songwriter, Dean Friedman.  This is my favorite Darko album to date as it plays to all of his strengths.  The sample selection is all taken from Friedman’s catalog and seems to fit Darko’s style like a custom suit   

ECID – Zen Repair (Fill In The Breaks)

Ecid cut his teeth in the Minneapolis hip hop scene of the early 2000s with album after album of boundary-pushing hip hop that he released through his own label, Fill in the Breaks.  Zen Repair offers up some of his most impressive production to date with a full sound that provokes head nods as we reflect lyrics about what we used to call the future.


Juno is one of the most fun releases of 2021.  These funk-influenced jams put me in mind of albums from the ’90s like Beck’s Midnite Vultures and Soul Coughing’s El Oso.  With a unique voice, Remi Wolf graces us with a good mix of reality but laces it with a great sense of humor.

CHVRCHES – Screen Violence: Director’s Cut

This album is a breath of fresh air for those of us who are looking for a great synth-pop album.  Robert Smith from The Cure even shows up for a guest appearance on this album.  Screen Violence enters some new territory for the trio with film soundtrack-inspired tracks like “Violent Delights” and “Nightmares.”

DEADPAN DARLING – S/T (Fake Four Inc.)

This one’s cheating because most of the songs that Ceschi and Blue Sky Black Death have achieved here are about 10 years old but they didn’t see the light of day till 2021 because of “lost hard drives” so I’m counting it regardless…of what they say. I also say “achieved” because the songs on this album are fucking phenomenal, moody, and beautiful pieces of songwriting and structure and that is an achievement across the board.

AWON AND PHONIKS – Nothing Less (Don’t Sleep Records)

This might be the smoothest rap album to drop this year. Phoniks annihilates the jazz-inspired production while Awon slides around the beats like he’s right at home. Come to think of it this album may have in fact, been made in his home…it is a pandemic release come to think of it.

ARLO PARKS – Collapsed in Sunbeams (Transgressive)

This album is like a down pillow coated in chinchilla fur…super comfy right? But for your ears. The jazzy overtones pair very well with Arlo’s effortless yet inspiring lyricism which makes this album an instant classic. Plus the drum patterns will keep your head nodding until it falls the fuck off.

CRUMB – Ice Melt

Calming, ethereal and melodic are just a few words I’d use to describe every song on this album. It was their 2019 release “Jinx” that got me hooked, 2021’s “Ice Melt” just made sure to reel me into the boat.

BELVEDERE – Hindsight is the Sixth Sense

Nothing but good ol’ fashioned Canadian Melodic Punk Rock here folks and done incredibly well, this album was a surprise hit even taking home some “best punk rock album” awards of its own in some circles.

MEN I TRUST – Untourable Album

Sleeper hit of the year right here…literally, this album will put you to sleep in the fact that it’s so goddamn comforting to listen to. This is a great dream-pop album straight outta Montreal, Canada. Just don’t listen to it while driving or operating heavy machinery because this album does cause drowsiness.


Short, sweet, and to the point. Normally I wouldn’t include an EP in a “best albums of…” but I still find myself repeatedly listening to this shoegaze/prog-rock masterpiece over and over. With influences steeped in everything from The Cure, My Bloody Valentine, Joy Division, and Unwound, this album is sure to awaken that louder part of your personality screaming to get let out.

PALM GHOSTS – The Lost Frequency (Ice Queen Records)

This year Palm Ghosts has released two albums but it’s The Lost Frequency (Ice Queen Records) that’s the standout. While Lifeboat Candidate is pretty stellar, this one is pretty remarkable. The nostalgic goth, peppered with an 80’s sensibility, clever wordplay, and contagious melodies.

BLOOD LEMON – S/T (Self-Released)
Coming together out of pure admiration, this Bosie, Idaho-based trio has come swinging with their rocking debut. Encompassing a heavy influence from their neighbors in the Seattle region, the tracks come out with a riot grrl vibe, along with unflinching lyrics centering around climate change, American politics, social justice, and navigating adulthood as women.

SPUD CANNON – Good Kids Make Bad Apples (Good Eye Records)

Right from the start, Spud Cannon blitzes you with over-the-top poppy guitar riffs and hyper vocals. During the recording process, the band only did single takes with the songs, which is rather impressive. The result comes off as a band that doesn’t want to fuck around with being relentless on tweaking the tweaks. I for one am thrilled that this
approach was taken.

SMILE MACHINE – Bye For Now (Exploding In Sound Records)

Over a two-year period, Jordyn Blakely found herself writing lyrics that centered around the dissolution of an unhealthy relationship and the unfortunate passing of her father. Frustration, guilt, mourning is just some of the underlining themes that incorporate this stellar debut. There’s a heavy lo-fi environment with hollowing drums and Blakely being
as vulnerable as one could ever be vocally.

MAE POWELL – Both Ways Brighter (Park The Van)

Can we go ahead and praise Mae Powell for giving us an album that preaches optimism during these turbulent times? Both Ways Brighter (Park The Van) is gentle to the touch and refreshing. Powell’s vocals lean towards an indie-pop vibe while the instrumentals are stellar.

GREER – Happy People (Epitaph Records)

It’s pretty damn close to being criminal that Greer only shared four tracks to make up Happy People (Epitaph). The guitar riffs are stellar and the lyrical content comes off as an old, vintage feel. The band’s youthful presence makes the EP hard to not the spin count go higher and higher. For fans of the early days of Cage of Elephant, give Happy People some time.

GENTLEMAN SPEAKER – The Well Between Continents (Self-Released)

Recalling the duration of lead vocalist Tim Brecht and traveler from France while spending some time in Switzerland, the lyrics for the album tell the tale. Brecht demonstrates the struggles that occurred in the brief courtship with accompanying mixture of emo, punk, and alternative instrumentals. The Well Between Continents showcases the growth of the band with their sound and direction going forward.

K. CARTER, TINO – Safe Money (Self-Released)

Some may call it serendipitous. Some may say that it was bound to happen. Whatever the case, having two of the strongest lyrical-driven hip-hop artists in the Dayton, Ohio area coming together and creating a dazzling EP is what we needed this year. “Mimosas,” one of the strongest tracks on the EP, offers a heavy R&B, jazz vibe with bass notes and dreamy synth. Both artists need to get back in the studio and whip up some more jams.

MARISSA NADLER – The Path of the Clouds (Sacred Bones)
Albeit being her ninth album, The Path of the Clouds offers listeners a new perspective on Nadler. Written primarily being in lockdown during the quarantine, Nadler looked towards a variety of influences and inner feelings to create a stunning album. Rich in soaring vocals and emotional instrumentals, Nadler has clearly crafted one of her best works to date.

PILE – Songs Known Together, Alone (Exploding In Sound)

Rick Maguire looked back within the impressive amount of work cataloged in Pile’s history and reshaped a block of handpicked songs. The result is a deeply moving to listen that ultimately brings listeners to another side of the band. Maguire is nothing short of impressive, commanding you to find that these reimagined works become your
favorites. I need more.

GIFT OF GAB – Finding Inspiration Somehow (NatureSounds)

This album is incredibly sad yet inspiring. Knowing what Gift of Gab was going through and yet he still persevered and gave us one final album that stands up to the best of them. R.I.P. Gift Of Gab. There will forever be a missing gap in the realm of Hip-Hop. 

ST. LENOX – Ten Songs Of Worship and Praise For Our Tumultuous Times (Don Giovanni)

With and every album, St. Lenox (Andrew Choi) finds an inspirational outlook on a specific subject and creates dazzling songs. With his latest effort, Choi comes away more soulful and shares writing that is his best to date. The strongest track, “Arthur Is At Shiva,” sets listeners on a beautiful path of crisp storytelling. Choi looks to figure out where religion falls in his life and we are more than happy to stand alongside him on this explorative journey.

LITTLE SIMZ – Sometimes I Might Be Introvert

This is one of the incredible hip-hop treasures of 2021. Little Simz is an incredibly talented lyricist and her honest songwriting paired with production that doesn’t let up will keep this album in steady rotation for years to come. 

OLD MOON – Altars

This one came in as a surprise. Old Moon, essentially the brainchild of Tom Weir, has released a challenging album in Altars. He tears through songs with dark & melancholic timbres, wrapped around guitars, effects, and pummeling drums. Weir’s vocals are distanced, filtered through effects, but fitting. This album was the first of two this year and pretty impressive.

BOY GOLDEN – Church of Better Daze (Six Shooter Records)

This is some great Canadian Country/Folk music here. It’s comforting, it’s catchy and it’s well written. That’s a triple banger without the mash. 

JEFF PARKER – Forfolks (International Anthem)

Despite his resumé (ILLTET, Tortoise, Isotope 217), multi-instrumentalist Jeff Parker is known for his guitar work. On Forfolks (International Anthem) we get that. His subtle & gentle works are occasionally breathtaking and that’s what we receive througout this album.

FAWNS OF LOVE – Innocence Of Protection (Kingfisher Bluez)

Returning is the husband/wife duo Fawns Of Love with a delightful and nostalgic journey with Innocence Of Protection (Kingfisher Bluez). The west-coast outfit’s ethereal synth-pop is filled with an array of influences, including those not easily located. It’s airy, inviting, and brilliant.

THE MOUNTAIN GOATS – Dark In Here (Merge Records)  

The Mountain Goats are so great, this is one of those albums that pulls you in right from the start. Yeh, it’s a bit folky but the songwriting is fun and it’s chock-full of songs that get stuck in the ol’ noggin. 

RISE AGAINST – Nowhere Generation (Loma Vista Recordings)

I fell off of Rise Against for years but when the singles started trickling out for the new album, I kept going back to them over and over, it also helps that Tim McIlrath has one of the best voices in rock music. 

COURTNEY BARNETT – Things Take Time, Take Time (Milk! Records)

Courtney Barnett is just a real treat in modern music. She’s one of those singer/songwriters who just knows what they are doing and does it damn near perfect every time. There’s not one song that doesn’t match up to.

DEVIN THE DUDE – Soulful Distance (Coughee Brothaz Ent)

This is the best Devin The Dude album in years and with features from Scarface, Lil’ Keke, Big Pokey and Slim Thug, it’s got that OG Houston flavour that is unmatched. Keep an ear out for the verse by Quad of 14k on the track High and Trippin’, that shit is the smoothest verse of the year. 

NOFX – Single Album (Fat Wreck Chords)

NOFX is one of the most successful independent bands of all time. This album definitely shows why that is. Some of Fat Mike’s best songwriting exists on Single Album and it’s a front-to-back great time.