The Best Albums of 2021 (so far)

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This year has already given us a slew of excellent releases, including breakthrough debuts from Olivia Rodrigo, Pink Sweat$ and J. Cole, revelatory R&B from Jazmine Sullivan and Dawn Richard, thrilling indie-rock from Julien Baker and Dry Cleaning, and excellent new work from reliable stars like Eric Church, the Foo Fighters, and Lana Del Rey Here are some best albums of 2021

Olivia Rodrigo — Sour

Olivia Rodrigo — Sour album

The peak-pandemic ubiquity of “Driver’s License” and a teenage resumé built almost entirely on Disney seemed to promise that Olivia Rodrigo’s debut would be some squidgy, winsome collection of cracked-pastel-heart ballads. Then came its opening salvo — the blown-speaker stomp of “Brutal,” a snarling the-kids-are-not-alright anthem built on the best Elastica riff since 1994 (look them up, kids!), and all the monster bops to follow: “Traitor,” “Good 4 U,” the Lorde-biting, bittersweet “Déjà Vu.” A little bit Billie Eilish, a lot bit pop-punk riot, Sour‘s spin-the-wheel mood may be the product of extremely savvy Gen-Z market research, but it also feels exactly right for this moment: the sound of electric youth personified.

Olivia Rodrigo traitor


Serpentwithfeet — Deacon

Serpentwithfeet — Deacon

“He never played football but look at how he holds me/He never needed silverware but I’m his little spoon,” Serpentwithfeet, a.k.a. Josiah Wise, sighs happily on Deacon‘s ethereal opener “Hyacinth.” The Baltimore native’s second full-length rarely pushes its BPMs above resting heart rate, but the record feels radical nonetheless: an intimate, intoxicating gospel-R&B opus that doesn’t just openly explore queer love but elevates it to something holy, self-love and joyful affirmation blooming in every tender dream-tempo note

serpentwithfeet Fellowship


Dawn Richard — Second Line 

Dawn Richard — Second Line

A phoenix rising from reality-TV ashes, former Making the Band star Dawn Richard made her break for alt-R&B freedom nearly a decade ago. Now on her sixth solo EP, the New Orleans-bred singer is more than fully liberated from the strictures of her Danity Kane origin story — she’s got actual wings on the album’s cover, and shiny gold C3PO armor, too. That’s not a bad metaphor for a record built on feathery beats and low-key Afro-futurism; a chill room-ready collection whose skittering soundscapes and burbling synths peel back to reveal the lyrical humanism shimmering just beneath.

Dawn Richard Bussifame


Pink Sweat$ — Pink Planet

Pink Sweat$ — Pink Planet

Pink Planet feels like flying — a gospel-tinged R&B effort filled with velvet-smooth vocals and melodies as light as clouds. It’s a fitting soundscape for Sweat$ (a.k.a. David Bowden), who spends the record searching for his own form of heaven: a lush, fertile, safe new world that serves as an escape from a rough upbringing. “We were born in the rubble, we were raised in the mud/Yeah it’s hard in the city, the city where I’m from,” he sings over an indelible organ riff on “Pink City.” Later, on “Paradise,” it’s “I’d give you the world and I’d trade all my time/We could have paradise for the rest of our life.” Metaphorical or otherwise, Bowden seems to have found it.

Pink Sweat$ At My Worst 


Taylor Swift Fearless (taylor’s version)

Taylor Swift— Fearless 2021

Swift begins the massive undertaking of remaking her back catalog with Fearless, the album that established her as a crossover star. Unlike most rerecordings, this time the new versions somehow sound less slick than the original. Her voice feels lower in the mix this time around, but for the most part she’s gone to extreme lengths to mimic the polished Nashville textures and soundscapes of the first Fearless; she brought back several of the album’s session musicians and even recruited Colbie Caillat (a primary influence on the 2008 version of Fearless) to redo her backing vocals on “Breathe.” Swift has clearly studied her vocal intonations on Fearless, down to the awkwardly recreated laughs and hiccups sprinkled throughout “Hey Stephen.” But her thirtysomething voice is richer, deeper, and more sure of itself. She embodies her earlier country affectations but only to a point: No longer does she try to make “back” rhyme with “laugh” on the deep cut “Come in With the Rain.”

Taylor Swift Fearless

Get the album here:…

J. ColeThe Off-Season

J. Cole—The Off-Season

Unlike his last two albums, J Cole’s The Off-Season has no overarching message, but instead, flat-out bars. The Off-Season is reminiscent of his 2010 mixtape Friday Night Lights, which established his core fan base and used basketball as a metaphor for rap. With guest appearances from Atlanta’s Lil Baby on “Pride is the Devil” and 21 Savage on “My Life,” we get to hear Cole rap alongside some of today’s biggest superstars in rap. The Off-Season represents in essence what Cole built his foundation on, a mix of conscious storytelling and punchlines that you might not catch until your second or third listen

J. Cole – a m a r i 

Stream “The Off-Season” :

Jazmine Sullivan — Heaux Tales

Jazmine Sullivan — Heaux Tales

Tales” is an apt word for Jazmine Sullivan’s first project in six years — a deeply entertaining, empowering, and often hilarious glimpse at the varying complexities of modern dating, particularly for Black women. The Philly-based artist is often invoked as one of the few vocalists in the game still able to sing the house down, and she doesn’t disappoint here, balancing deliciously illicit riffs (the Ari Lennox collab “On It”) with showstopping, effusive directives (“Pick Up Your Feelings”). Intermixed with confessional monologues from real women in Sullivan’s life, this sex-positive project is positively exquisite, providing a new joke, harmony, or quote to latch onto with every subsequent listen

Jazmine Sullivan – Heaux Tales: Part One


Julien Baker LittleOblivions

Julien Baker Little—Oblivions

On two standout solo albums, and as a member of the indie supergroup Boygenius, with Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Dacus, she’s established herself as one of the leading female singer-songwriters of her generation, both for her music’s muted grandeur and lyrics that seem to dive headlong into emotional chaos. In 2019, Baker took a break from music to finish her undergraduate degree. But she’s emerged a much more proficient artist. After making her previous LPs mostly on guitar and piano, Baker recorded her latest, which she also produced, with a full band, creating a big, steely, momentous-feeling sound that’s much more pop-aware than anything else she’s done. The expansive music does nothing to dilute her lyrical directness

Julien Baker – “Hardline” 

best albums of 2021