NOTE: There will be no Hoopla next Monday, Dec. 27. I will be back next Thursday, Dec. 30, on the eve of Cincinnati’s win over Alabama. The following Monday will be an updated power rankings of the Big Ten.
Much like last week, no need for a big explanation here. These are my top 20 albums of the year, in order from 20 to 1. The only stipulation here again is because of the one, the only, Taylor Swift: her Taylor’s Version albums don’t count. They are great and I am happy they exist, but considering them as new albums doesn’t feel correct given all the material I had heard in some form prior to 2021.
With that out of the way, let’s get to the list.
20.) Little Oblivions - Julien Baker — This album continued to grow on me throughout the year, and I think that’s a testament to Baker’s songwriting and the strong variety in styles of songs that all work to complement her voice so well.
19.) Nurture - Porter Robinson — I wouldn’t call Porter’s style of music something I usually would be into, but “Nurture” is so brilliantly executed that it didn’t matter in the slightest. This is a beautiful project that exudes the passion of its artist on every single song.
18.) Whole Lotta Red - Playboi Carti — A Christmas 2020 release will sneak in here. When WLP dropped, a whole lotta people were quick to write it off as a disappointment after the highs of “Die Lit.” Those people were wrong. Carti decided to evolve his sound to a whole new style of production, and I think it works incredibly well. There are major highlights throughout this track list, but most importantly, this feels like an artist that wasn’t ready to settle despite every opportunity to do so.
17.) ROADRUNNER: NEW LIGHT, NEW MACHINE - BROCKHAMPTON — This is likely the lowest a BROCKHAMPTON album has ever been on my year-end list, but that’s not because the group faltered here. There is still plenty to love on “ROADRUNNER,” with an exceptional first half and some clear highlights at the very end. It didn’t grab me quite like their other works, but I still listened like crazy to this thing because BROCKHAMPTON simply does not miss.
16.) Infinite Granite - Deafheaven — Deafheaven risked it all on this album, trading out their darker sound for one that felt more accessible, with a specific addition of shoegaze. For me, it absolutely worked. This group showed its range by absolutely nailing this new sound, delivering an album that is probably my favorite the band has ever done.
15.) Happier Than Ever - Billie Eilish — Billie’s previous album was one of my favorite albums of that year, and though she went in a different, less spooky direction this time around, she did not lose that level of quality. This album has some of her most personal writing with a wide range of sounds, most of which she nails. Of course, it leads to the climax in the title track, one of the best moments on any album all year.
14.) Donda - Kanye West — I had given up on Kanye West after the release of “Jesus Is King,” likely to avoid getting hurt again. I was satisfied with “Kids See Ghosts” being his grand finale. But then came “Donda,” an album that, while absolutely flawed, has some of Kanye’s best work in recent memory. The highs far outweigh the lows, and it gives me hope that there’s still more good for the most influential artist of the century to show us.
13.) Collapsed In Sunbeams - Arlo Parks — A delightful early surprise to start the year, Arlo Parks’ really made something beautiful on this album. This is just a thoroughly enjoyable listen that I have come back to time and time again.
12.) Inside (The Songs) - Bo Burnham — As I mentioned in the songs list “Inside” the visual project is probably the best thing I have watched in 2021, but I think the songs stand on their own enough to be included here. Burnham manages to make songs that are hysterical, witty, emotional and soul crushing all at once. His words create such a visual, and that’s why I think the album works so effortlessly.
11.) Home Video - Lucy Dacus — I gushed over Dacus’ ability as a songwriter last week, but it’s because she’s so damn good at it. “Home Video” won my heart with its singles and then continued to bring great track after great track when the rest of the album came out.
10.) Sling - Clairo
I cannot say enough how impressed I am with Clairo’s development as an artist. Her 2019 effort was good, but it left me with a little more to be desired. “Sling” was what I desired. This is a more focused, more cohesive effort thanks to the help of one Jack Antonoff, but also thanks to improvements from Clairo herself.
9.) SOUR - Olivia Rodrigo
Yeah I’m thinking the “drivers license” girl is pretty damn good. Olivia Rodrigo became the new name in 2021 not because of one song, but because of a whole damn album that’s about as strong an effort as you’ll see, especially considering she is still a teenager. Her vocal range is outrageous, but I’m also impressed with the wide range of production on this album, and how much her vocals are up to the task regardless of if it’s a subdued piano song or a hard-hitting rock one.
8.) Juno - Remi Wolf
This is an absolute atom bomb of excitement, a ball of fire that is completely irresistible. To call Remi Wolf’s energy infectious would be underselling it mightily. This album completely blew me away from the very first song, “Liquor Store,” then kept that same level of hype all the way through, and that’s hard to do. I may have been late to the bandwagon here, but I won’t be leaving it any time soon.
7.) LP! (OFFLINE) - JPEGMAFIA
Both versions would make this list, but the offline version reaches some heights that the one on streaming services can’t. Peggy is not the only artist making abstract hip-hop, and yet not a damn soul can sound like him, no matter how hard they try. JPEGMAFIA is in his own plane of existence with how weird and off the wall everything he puts out is. And yet, it’s all so fucking good, and LP! might be his very best.
6.) a touch of the beat gets you up on your feet gets you out and then into the sun - Aly & AJ
Imagine taking well over a decade off between albums and then immediately dropping a classic like this. Aly & AJ’s music was fun in the 2000s, but this, this is something special. There are only two words I can use to describe this album: good vibes. Like, the best vibes you’ve ever heard. What an exceptional return album for this duo.
5.) An Evening With Silk Sonic - Silk Sonic
Rarely does a collab album reach expectations. When two artists come together, they often lose a lot of what makes them individually great. But the exceptions to this rule, those albums often are remembered for a long time. What Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak pulled off here, with incredible grooves and even more incredible chemistry, will be something I won’t soon forget.
4.) Jubilee - Japanese Breakfast
I was certainly aware of Japanese Breakfast before this year began, enough so to be excited about whatever “Jubilee” was going to be. I was not prepared for this. “Jubilee” is vibrant, exciting, blissful and plenty of other adjectives that are failing to come to my head. This album is so damn enjoyable and so brilliantly crafted, I could not escape coming back to it if I tried.
3.) By The Time I Get To Phoenix - Injury Reserve
I could go on for far too long about this album. Recorded mostly before the death of core member Stepa J. Groggs, this is a project that feels like it is missing something, as if each song has a chunk of it taken out. The result is a set of songs that spiral out of control, that struggle to stay together amid the chaos. It is a haunting listen unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before, and it is executed masterfully. No one would have blamed Injury Reserve for calling it after losing Stepa, and instead they come back with something that shook me to my core. Somehow, someway, all of it works.
2.) Sometimes I Might Be Introvert - Little Simz
The most underrated artist working today. Little Simz held absolutely nothing back here, creating an album with grandiose production fit for a theater performance. It shoots for the stars, and yet the true star is always its lead artist. Simz is up for the task regardless of how epic the music is behind her, with her typical exceptional lyricism paired with a great delivery and style that is unparalleled in any UK rap that I have ever heard. Almost no artist could pull this album off, and yet Simz makes it look easy.
1.) CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST - Tyler, the Creator
It’s time to ask a question: Is this the best three-album stretch in modern rap history? Kendrick Lamar’s last three albums come to mind, but I think that Tyler has cemented his case with “CALL ME YOU GET LOST,” a true masterpiece that, like Simz, could only have been done by him. This album combines the brilliance of Tyler’s last two efforts with so much of that old school, “typical” rap style that I had forgotten Tyler had in him.
It is so hard to sound more mainstream while keeping everything that made the uniqueness work. Deafheaven did that, but Tyler did that to the nth degree with this project, making fans old and new equally happy. The bangers are there with “CORSO,” “LEMONHEAD” and “JUGGERNAUT.” Songs like “SWEET” take me back to the “Flower Boy” era. There are shades of “IGOR” throughout the impeccable production.
This feels like the album that Tyler truly wanted to make. After exploring his sound in a variety of ways, he has learned from those and come back stronger. Adding DJ Drama is the icing on the cake, a victory lap in the form of ad-libs that constantly brings a smile to my face. Tyler continues to prove himself as an all-time great artist, and this album does so much right because of him and him alone.
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