Our Top Ten Albums of 2021
Favorite records to round out the year
1. Turnstile // GLOW ON
Turnstile fans really should have seen this coming. If the slight shift towards even more melodic punk sounds found on 2016's Time & Space signaled a step forward for the band, GLOW ON is a sprint towards creative freedom, preceded by the genre-bending singles of the Turnstile Love Connection EP, all of which are featured components of the band's third LP.
GLOW ON takes all of the vibes of "positive hardcore" and avoids the associated lyrical cliches. Moreso, in addition to 311-aping funk-rock ("Fly Again"), Turnstile revels in transforming simple riffs with new genre flairs, including arena rock ("Holiday"), dream pop ("Underwater Boi"), and borderline gorgeous samba experiments ("Don't Play"). GLOW ON sneers in the face of elitism and joyously makes itself accessible to anyone who's ever had an interest in heavy music. — AM
2. Japanese Breakfast // Jubilee
This is Michell Zauner's year. She is certainly the first person to be on both our top albums list and to author one of our top books of the year — her bestselling memoir Crying in H Mart. She's an undeniable talent, and her third studio record Jubilee finds her at the top of her game. A gorgeously lush album that evolves from the booming "sad girl" fad into indie pop prescience — easily the height of indie pop (and dream pop for that matter) this year. Don't think that the album is devoid of emotion for one second though. Zauner's songwriting is firing on all cylinders, and her musical choices are varied enough to keep you guessing from track to track. — NW
3. Tyler, the Creator // CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST
Where was Tyler, the Creator supposed to go? After releasing an intensely personal hip-hop opus (2017's Flower Boy), the artist decided to take a leap and do what he always wanted to: sing. This particularly large and rewarding swing showcased the no limits attitude of the musician and producer savant, one which would inevitably seep into his latest amalgamation of genres.
Tyler's sixth studio album isn't afraid to look back as often as it looks forward. Taking the manic energy of his 2015 album, Cherry Bomb, and infusing it with a love for the mixtapes that formed him (Gangsta Grillz, anyone?), the album plays like a retrospective on Tyler's career and a greatest hits collection of entirely new songs. — AM
4. Cade Eliason // Forget Me Not
If you haven't listened to this album, you clearly haven't been hanging out with me that much this year. A magnum opus in the form of slacker-soul indie rock bedroom albums, Forget Me Not is as close to perfect as you can get. The (appropriately-titled) track names form a sentence from the final track, and the last notes of the record end with the drum beats of the opening. It's a geniusly formed concept album, coming from a prolific 19-year-old from Minneapolis with less than 2,000 monthly Spotify users. Take a cue from some of the people closest to me. Listen to this album and explore Eliason's full catalog. He's a talent like I've never seen. Get in on the ground floor while you still have the chance. Now! — NW
5. Bo Burnham // Inside (the Songs)
Technically this is the first soundtrack to make it onto our top ten list. For anyone who has seen it though, Inside is not like any other comedy special that has come before it. A diary-like rumination began at the height of COVID-19 quarantine, musician and comedian Bo Burnham made something that's hilarious, emotionally evocative, and absolutely fucking catchy. The "throwaway" songs are given just the right amount of time they need to breathe to get the joke out, while Burnham's deeper dives provide the entree to the album's meal. Aside from Charli XCX's How I'm Feeling Now, this is likely the second best album created as a direct response to the pandemic, even if Burnham's existential wokeness grinds on you. — NW
6. SPIRIT OF THE BEEHIVE // Entertainment, Death
In our eyes, the albums that often deserve to be named on lists like these get here by daring to try something new. Philadelphia's SPIRIT OF THE BEEHIVE has always been skilled at blending woozy indie rock with elements of shoegaze and psychedelic spaz-outs, but Entertainment, Death is night and day compared to what came before it. Filled with atmospheric field recordings, unsettling strings, and a newfound appreciation for electronics and sampling (think The Postal Service sharing a bad trip with Animal Collective), we can confidently tell you that there isn't another album on this list — or any other, for that matter — that sounds quite like Entertainment, Death. — AM
7. Lucy Dacus // Home Video
A thoroughly personal coming-of-age story, Home Video succeeds in rising to the heights Dacus achieved in her 2018 debut, Historian. As one third of the supergroup Boygenius, Dacus also has no problem living up to her peers Julien Baker and Phoebe Bridgers. Specifically, the album looks autobiographically at the songwriter's youth growing up in a heavily Christian environment. The songs stick with you, both in lyrical content and musicality. Using a more direct approach, the content lands like a sharpshooter's arrow right to the heart. With her third studio album, Dacus has cemented herself as indie-rock royalty. — NW
8. Vince Staples // Vince Staples
Vince Staples deserves all the love he can get. The charismatic, free-spirited, and often hilarious online personality (not to mention exceptionally talented rapper) is a man of the people, and his self-titled album proves as much. In a year where two of the biggest albums not only in this genre, but in any genre, were bloated beyond recognition, Staples delivered his best project yet, an understated and masterfully produced 10-track tape that packs more of a personal punch than any of its competitors in just 22 minutes. And for our money, it has the most replay value of anything released this year. — AM
9. St. Vincent // Daddy's Home
Is this Annie Clark's best album? By no means. But she's still freaking St. Vincent. A retro throwback to the glory of the 1970s (Clark was born in 1982), with merchandise that included a copy of the album on a workable eight-track tape, Daddy's Home is a fair departure from the ever-less experimental indie genius of her earlier work, reinventing herself in an almost Bowie-esque fashion. The album truly grows on you though. I found myself revisiting it far more than I expected to, a record filled with catchy melodies harkening back to a glitzier era. — NW
10. Porches // All Day Gentle Hold !
Porches' current value and influence in indie rock is understated to say the least. While their peers (Alex G, Japanese Breakfast) finally receive the critical acclaim they deserve, Porches continues to churn out consistent, and increasingly strange, synth-pop records. Short, sweet, and filled with just as many left turns as melodic gems, All Day Gentle Hold ! feels like a companion record to last year's Ricky Music. While other bands continue to replicate the sad boy beats of their breakthrough record, Pool, Porches chooses to continue forging their own path with a unique mix of electric guitars, samplers, and keyboards. — AM