“2021, will you think about me?
I could wait a year, but I shouldn't wait three.”
- Ezra Koenig Vampire Weekend
Boy, what a year it was. The great escape from the doldrums of 2020 ended up being more of a “staycation” as the effects were still being felt all through 2021. Concerts did start happening though. Bands did start putting out new music and Broadway opened anew. As the thawing out from an artistic freeze continues to happen at a blistering pace, these albums that follow are just a small example of the incredible music that filled 2021 and is hopefully a harbinger of a renaissance in the medium for years to come. Here are just a few of my favorite albums from 2021:
BLACKSTARKIDS - Puppies Forever
The BLACKSTARKIDS from KC are what the future sounds like and I am ready to hop in a Delorean and tell Doc to put the pedal down. Name a genre and they are already doing it better than everyone else. This album’s energy is only matched by their live performance. If you ever wondered what it would sound like if Kanye mixed and produced an MGMT track with features from Matty Healy and Debbie Harry, then look no further. Danceable, moshable, catchy, and inspiring. This is the best album of 2021. Puppies Forever, indeed.
Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit - Georgia Blue
An album inspired by a tweet. What a very 2021 thing to say. On an Election night that seemed rather grim, one unlikely state was trending to be close when it seemed inconceivable just a month or so earlier. An artist with impeccable songwriting skill and taste recognizes a moment and tweets a fateful thought. To paraphrase, “If Georgia goes blue, I will make an album of Georgia songwriter and band covers.” That artist was Jason Isbell and what would be the result of his good word is breathtaking from the first note. A+ band, covering A+ songs. Can't miss.
Silk Sonic - An Evening With Silk Sonic
This album drips. Drips sex. Drips soul. Drips swagger and funk. From the ubiquitous first single “Leave The Door Open” to the raunchy “777”, this album would make James proud and shows off the incredible talent amassed in this supergroup. Bruno and Anderson SHINE!
Elbow - Flying Dream 1
Elbow does Elbow better than anyone. What’s Elbow you say? It’s the feeling when you make the move from the kid's table to the late-night card table with your parents. It is the feeling of being grown up. It’s serious but sweet. Guy Garvey continues to somehow sound more beautiful and soothing than ever. “Flying Dream 1” is a master class in how to make professional studio albums.
Parquet Courts - Sympathy For Life
Why don't bands make solid art-rock that makes ya move and also makes ya think anymore? The answer to this question is that Parquet Courts does, so what do you mean? Distinct vocals, slightly reminiscent of early David Byrne and a thumping rhythm section that makes you wonder if Dave didn't just put the old band back together. “Marathon Of Anger” is a perfect song for the time we live in and the rest of the album makes a similar statement.
Lil Nas X - Montero
Admit it. When you heard “Old Town Road” for the 1000th time last year you said to yourself that no matter how much of an earworm it was, this would be a one-hit-wonder. What Lil Nas X went and did was make a follow-up that has two smash singles to date and includes one of the most provocative and groundbreaking videos ever with “Industry Baby”. A new generation artist doing things in a new way.
Sam Dew - MOONLIT FOOLS
When I finally find another 2021 Best Album list with Sam Dew’s “Moonlit Fools” on it, I will finally take another list seriously. Just kidding, but I have no idea why the uber-talented Sam Dew isn't a household name. His falsetto is transcendent. His mixes and production talent are top-notch. This album along with his first “Damn Sue” and his side project “Red Hearse” should be in your rotation instantly.
Doja Cat - Planet Her
In a year when women dominated music (like almost every year), Doja Cat put her mark on pop music by making a record with heart and sex appeal. Some songs are just perfect. Doja Cat has a couple of those on this instant classic. The above track “Kiss Me More” with the equally dynamic SZA is a banger and will be playing in old people clubs in the year 2060.
Lin Manuel Miranda - In The Heights Soundtrack
Broadway musicals are not always easily translated to the screen and are definitely difficult to place on an album. Broadway also has had such an incredibly hard couple years so some ingenuity was necessary. Lin Manuel Miranda was able to accomplish both in this soundtrack for the musical that would create a superstar. The songs are so catchy but not in a typically kitschy Broadway way. The voices sound so authentic and fresh. This was the music I needed when it found me.
Sturgill Simpson - Ballad of Dood and Juanita
Sturgill being Sturgill. In a year that may very well signal the end of his performing career or at least this version of it, Sturgill went out on top. This album sounds like country music is supposed to sound like. Hell, it's got a song about missing a dead dog. Before people started overthinking and making algorithm Country, this is what it sounded like and I wish it would never end. Authentic and vulnerable.
goose - Shenanigans Nite Club
Catching fire in a studio setting for a “jamband” can be very difficult but goose shows with “Shenanigans Nite Club” that they have the sensibility to do it pitch-perfectly. From the slick sound of “So Ready” (yes we need “Slow Ready” on the next album fellas SEXY GOOSE!) to the deeply jammed out Madhuvan, you get the sense that goose may settle on being an incredible band that jams and less of a jam band someday.