Counting Down the Top 10 Albums of 2021

Happy New Year’s Eve! It’s officially the last day of 2021 and I wanted to share with you my favorite albums released this year. 2021 was a big year for music. With TikTok being the biggest contributor to new, young artists being discovered as well as Gen Z redefining digital music streaming, we can all agree that music has been a big part of our post-lockdown transition.

There were so many exciting releases and innovative albums released in 2021, which is why I wanted to highlight my Top 10 Albums of 2021.

10. Esperanza Spalding — SONGWRIGHTS APOTHECARY LAB

This project began during the Lower Manhattan Songwrights Apothecary Lab (S.A.L.) where the participating artists were asked to research “how our bodies respond to stress, aging, social anxiety, and how/when music has intervened as a soothing and recalibrating presence…Through this searching, re-searching, and re-listening to myths, poems, song fragments, testimonies, dreams, questions, and stories, we wrought 6 formwelas, each with a distinct, yet interrelated salutary intention.”

I love the expressiveness of this album, colored through experimental vocal melodies and sonic landscapes to illustrate the importance of mental health in an innovative explosion of contemporary jazz.

9. Arlo Parks — Collapsed in Sunbeams

Ever since the end of 2020, I’ve been following the music of Arlo Parks, a young British singer-songwriter and poet who is using her words to inspire others. Collapsed in Sunbeams begins with a beautiful monologue/poem written by Parks, and explores themes such as sexuality, love, mental illness, and family throughout the album.

In September, I had the chance to see Arlo Parks perform live at the Music Hall of Williamsburg just as NYC was beginning to open back up with live music. It was an incredibly emotional performance being in the space with other young people who had been trapped in their homes for so long.

8. Olivia Rodrigo — Sour

Disney-star, Olivia Rodrigo, is undoubtedly the breakthrough artist of the year. Her nostalgic songs about heartbreak captured an entire generation. Working closely with stars such as producer, Jack Antonoff and Taylor Swift (who also had a breakthrough year in 2021), Rodrigo became the first Asian American woman with a #1 on Billboard Hot 100 with her debut single, “driver’s license” at the age of 17, making her the youngest artist with a #1 in Billboard Charts history.

Olivia Rodrigo also happened to be my most-listened-to artist of 2021 (according to my Spotify Wrapped), and I believe it was her relatable lyrics and cathartic singing that drew me to her music.

7. Celia Hollander — Timekeeper

One of the best new albums I discovered this year was ambient-electronic artist, Celia Hollander’s Timekeeper. I first found out about this album when Hollander’s manager sent an email to me at WNYU, and after listening to the album and reading about the concept of the piece, I was fascinated. As Celia Hollander describes it, “Timekeeper is a collection of temporal impressions. Each track is entitled with a time of day, mapping the ways that changes in energy and emotion form a continuously shifting sense of time.”

6. Lil Nas X — Montero

Lil Nas X took 2021 as a year to focus on himself, and by doing so, he presented us with his debut album, Montero. As we’ve seen time and time before, Lil Nas X is still a master at genre-blending, collecting styles and inspirations from the musicians around him and creating a global sound that is reflected in his fan base. He also opened up about his sexuality, creating provocative music videos and celebrating queerness.

5. Bluewerks — Bluewerks Vol. 4: Drift Off

If you’re looking for an album to relax to, Bluewerks Vol. 4: Drift Off is the perfect album for you. Featuring the first collaboration between Blue Note Record Label and Astralwerks, this album features a compilation of lo-fi jazz and downtempo electronic music. I found myself putting this on everytime I needed to relax, slow down or get some work done.

4. Various Artists — decades (in space)

From pioneering non-profit internet radio station, dublab, comes decades (in space) to commemorate over two decades of electronic music history with this quadrophonic record. This ambient album brings together electronic artists from across the globe and all walks of life, into a hypnotic soundscape. Some of my favorite collaborations from this album include Emily Kokal (Warpaint) + Suzanne Ciani, and Laura Escudé + Sudan Archives.

3. Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders, The London Symphony Orchestra — Promises

In a new collaboration between the electronic duo, Floating Points, free jazz saxophonist, Pharoah Sanders, and The London Symphony Orchestra, Promises explores this interesting combination of instruments and electronics based on a single theme. As each movement plays, the theme continues to evolve, weaving in and out of silence to create a never-ending soundscape.

2. Jon Hopkins — Music for Psychadelic Therapy

Recently, I’ve been exploring the connection between our consciousness, music, and psychedelic. So when I stumbled upon this album by an electronic ambient artist, Jon Hopkins, I knew it was the answer I was looking for. Music for Psychadelic Therapy invites you to turn your focus inwards and reflect on your own state of being. Jon Hopkins uses music to guide you through a journey of deep meditation and tranquility. I was deeply inspired by this album which is why it is near the top of my list!

  1. Coldcut, Mixmaster Morris — @0

@0 is the most ambitious project we have seen this year. The album is a massive compilation with many new and newly revised tracks that find Coldcut diving deep into ambient and surfacing with a clutch of musical pearls. Coldcut gathered an astounding roster of electronic and experimental artists for this project and with a total of 30 tracks, this album is a masterpiece. Some of the featured artists include Ryuichi Sakamoto, Suzanne Ciani, Steve Roach, Juliana Barwick, Imogen Heap, A Winged Victory for the Sullen, and Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith.

In addition to new releases from these renowned artists, 50% of net receipts from the album will go towards charities including CALM (Campaign Against Living Miserably), Mind, and Black Minds Matter.

Now, I’d like to hear from you! What were your favorite albums from 2021? Comment them down below!

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