The Best Albums Of 2021

The second year of the COVID pandemic brought more of a sense of familiarity and normalcy with quarantines, cancelled plans, and further delays. While some albums still linger in the shadow of coronavirus, many records have found a place in the new normal and feel less like commentaries on the pandemic and more introspective than years past. Of course there are a few that are direct results of lockdowns (see: the #12 pick on this list). All that being said, it feels good to finally go back to concerts, and many of these records summed up the musical trends, while being some of my favorites.

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Bo Burnham — Inside

Comedy can often feel like you’re fraying at the seams. Those moments can be painfully awkward, but they can also be the most rewarding. This ranges from the masochistic joy that comics take from seeing their peers struggle to get an audience back, or it can be engaging to see someone having a mental breakdown onstage, in the same way that it’s exciting to watch a car-wreck. Most comics will tell you that despite the hard times, it’s usually a matter of actually getting up there and running material that helps keep you sane. It’s in all of these spaces that Bo Burnham’s Inside lives.

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Bruce Springsteen—Greetings From Asbury Park, N.J.

I’ve been thinking about starting a series called “Blogging the Boss” where I listen to every Springsteen album and write about it. Should I do that? Anyway, here’s something I wrote about Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ.

It’s almost fascinating how lively Bruce Springsteen’s first album is. The record doesn’t open with a declarative statement as Born in the U.S.A. does. Nor does it open with a cinematic scene that almost feels like a novel adaptation that the author had the perfect amount of control on as is Born to Run (“Thunder Road”). Still Greetings from Asbury Park is cinematic in its own way, especially at its open. “Blinded by the Light” may as well set the tone for arriving at the boardwalk1 (or carnival or backyard birthday party or barbecue) about five minutes after its gotten dark out. The opener is practically in medias res for a slice-of-life from someone who was about to become America’s favorite guitar-slinging storyteller.

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The 20 Best Albums of 2020

All we have now is music right? In a year where it felt like the world was falling apart, there was so much to take hope in (even songs that were written and recorded long before things started going to shit). A number of artists created work that both reflected the current moment inadvertently (Punisher, RTJ4) and very intentionally (Taylor Swift, Charli XCX). These are my top albums of the year:

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Top 25 Albums of 2019

  1. The Hold Steady-Thrashing Thru the Passion

With their first proper full length since Teeth Dreams, The Hold Steady’s return is loaded with the intense joy that fans expect. While the expansive tales of religious experience veiled as drug abuse are missed, the band brings the same passionate intensity that you’d expect.

  1. 100 gecs-1000 gecs

Few records that came out this year are as difficult to classify as 100 gecs’ debut full length. The songs blend punk’s intensity with pop’s sensibility in something that’s both fun and challenging. There will be a number of moments you’re left scratching your head, but also jumping around.

  1. Ariana Grande-thank u, next

In perhaps the most difficult stretch of her career, Ariana Grande delivered an album that’s both cool and emotional. Songs like “ghostin” and “fake smile” adequately express the difficulty Grande has faced, while “7 rings” and “break up with your girlfriend, i’m bored” are some of the catchiest of her career. Take the title track, and you have the best of both worlds.

  1. Lady Lamb-Even in the Tremor

A thoughtful and interesting slice of singer-songwriter joy, Aly Spaltro uses sparsity to tap into real American loneliness. “We took turns crying on the passenger side of America” is such a great line to express how sometimes the only friend you can take solace with is unreachable.

  1. Say Anything-Oliver Appropriate

On his final album under the Say Anything moniker, Max Bemis is just as introspective as ever. He tackles fame and addiction with a knife that’s pointed inward but is taking everyone else down with him. While he’s problem let his “dream of Julian Casablancas die,” Bemis’ self-deprecation and self-awareness are both still things of joy, even if this is the last Say Anything record

  1. Titus Andronicus-An Obelisk

In their most straightforward rock record, Titus Andronicus bring all the fury you’d expect from an album’s debut record. “(I Blame) Society” is perhaps the catchiest song Patrick Stickles has ever written.

  1. Rico Nasty & Kenny Beats-Anger Management

You don’t want to fuck with Rico Nasty. The songs on Anger Management roar with the same fury of hardcore punk. A lot of comparisons get drawn to Soundcloud rap and punk, but Nasty doesn’t embrace the melodies of pop-punk and emo the way her contemporaries do. I repeat, you don’t want to fuck with Rico Nasty.

  1. Slaughter Beach, Dog-Safe and Also No Fear

In the project’s most thoughtful record yet, Jake Ewald has finally found a voice outside of Modern Baseball to tell his stories. He also embraces some of the more singer-songwriter leaning aspects of the project, by embracing his full band. He also offers songs that are wise beyond his years, such as “Heart Attack,” which is all at once romantic and devastating.

  1. Oso Oso-Basking in the Glow

In what is their best record yet, Oso Oso embraced both emo and 90’s indie rock to create both catchy and thoughtful songs. In a record that’s all at once shimmering with, well, a glow, but maintains the DIY nature that the band cut their teeth on, Basking in the Glow affirms Oso Oso’s as a great straight-up rock band.

  1. Bull of Apis Bull of Bronze-Offerings of Flesh and Gold

Offerings of Flesh and Gold isn’t really a metal record in the vain of other great metal albums of the decade. Bull of Apis Bull of Bronze act more as composers, writing classical pieces through the lens of black metal. Comparing heavy metal to classical music may seem cliché, but these feel like compositions rather than just skilled players.

  1. Tyler, the Creator-Igor

Following your magnum opus with a breakup record is a difficult ordeal, but Tyler takes the messy and difficult parts of the breakup and channels it into Igor’s most difficult moments. He can be cocky during a track like “WHAT’S GOOD,” but it feels like a defense mechanism when lumped in with a track like “ARE WE STILL FRIENDS?” and “I DON’T LOVE YOU ANYMORE.”

  1. Carly Rae Jepsen-Dedication

Jepsen followed an album shrouded in darkness with a bright white album cover. Dedication doesn’t have the same punch as Emotion, but it offers some of Jepsen’s best songwriting. A song like “Party For One” is tongue-in-cheek enough to be an intellectual pop song, but it’s so fun that it doesn’t even matter if you’re smirking while you sing it. “Too Much” is perhaps the best song of Jepsen’s career, where she warns everyone about how she overdoes everything. Thankfully, that’s not a bad thing on Dedication. 

  1. Dave Hause-Kick

Hause is one of the decade’s best punk troubadours. While the fact remains that Hause can take the full band arrangements of any of his songs and strip it down to just him and a guitar, Kick is the first time that the full band feels like a conscious decision, not an indulgence. “The Ditch” is Hause’s best pop song, but he also tore back new depths. Where Bury Me In Philly had the rawness of newfound sobriety, Kick is Hause having comfort in it and writing about his other experiences. There isn’t a song with the same level of real angst that opening track “Eye Aye I” does. “Saboteurs” is an arena ready love song that Hause deserves to play in the biggest rooms. In a year where

  1. Aaron West & The Roaring Twenties-Routine Maintenance

With the latest installment in the Aaron West saga, Dan Campbell found where the light is. Where other Aaron West records ruminated on death and divorce, Routine Maintenance finally found West discovering comfort and a meaningful existence. While there’s still low moments, like “Just Sign the Papers,” Campbell finally threw West some friends and someone he can be a father figure for. With the same grandiosity of a Springsteen record, Campbell doesn’t hold back, offering both atmospheric hymn-like songs and straightforward classic-rock tinged bangers.

  1. The Menzingers-Hello Exile

In their newest life update, The Menzingers offer some of their most personal songs yet alongside some of their most fun. A track like “I Can’t Stop Drinking” is juxtaposed with a beer-lifting track like “London Drugs.” The band also wrote their most direct political anthems with both “Strawberry Mansion” and “America (You’re Freaking Me Out).” Still, this is an album that ruminates on loss and how now that The Menzingers have found themselves older, they see it more and try to tackle it, with care and a glass of whiskey in hand.

  1. Denzel Curry-ZUU

While Curry rode high from last year’s excellent TA13OO, ZUU is perhaps the rapper’s most radio-ready record yet. While so many Soundcloud Rappers thrive on writing one good song and a ton of crap, Curry has figured out how to distill his best work into a few songs and cut the crap.

  1. Lizzo-Cuz I Love You

No other popstar has felt like as much of a breakout as Lizzo. Whether it’s the neo-disco of “Juice” or the thoughtful/fun pop of “Truth Hurts,” Lizzo cemented herself as a star in 2019. When she really shines is the soulful “Jerome,” an earnest song with the same energy as her bangers.

  1. The National-I Am Easy to Find

In their most ambitious album yet, The National meld both classical composition and electronic noise. The glitchy aspects of I Am Easy to Find cut through the thoughtful, somber moments in a way that finds some sort of beauty in this chaos. The album’s crowning achievement is perhaps “Not In Kansas,” a choral song where Matt Berninger seemingly lists off a stream of conscious in diatribe of what he finds comfort in (R.E.M., The Godfather, and the Old and New Testaments) and what has been getting under his skin (alt-right opium).

  1. Pkew Pkew Pkew-Optimal Lifestyles

Some of the best albums cut everything down to their best few moments and rely on the energy of the tracks. Pkew Pkew Pkew’s sophomore record dumps beer on the listener and invites you to get “fucked up ‘til I fuck off.” In all the moments that the band throws a party, it culminates in the penultimate song “Adult Party,” where the band rallies against  shitty parties you go to in your 20’s, where everyone acts mature, despite the fact that you just want to get wasted and piss on the coats.

  1. Craig Finn-I Need a New War

In his best solo album yet, Craig Finn breaks down American culture in little vignettes that show both the best and worst in people. Ruminations on death and shitty friends are interrupted by those just trying to get by.

  1. Proper-I Spent the Winter Writing Songs About Getting Better

With their sophomore record, Proper (fka Great Wight) offer observations on both American culture, scene politics, and family. At its core, this is a record about coming to terms with your identity. That’s perhaps best exemplified in the closing, title-track, but tracks like “White Sheep” and “Lime Green Jehri Curl” are about finding yourself, by observing others.

  1. PUP-Morbid Stuff

I’ve already written a lot about this record, but few albums have tracks as good as the opening song.

  1. Taylor Swift-Lover

Taylor Swift countered reputation’s darkness with a fun and cohesive album about love. Lover is romantic and heartwrenching all in the span of a few songs. While there are still cringe moments, notably in “Me!” and “You Need to Calm Down,” tracks like “Cruel Summer” and “Paper Rings” outweigh the negatives. Even when Swift is super on-the-nose on a song like “The Man,” she still offers the song passionately with the best production of her career.

  1. Bon Iver-i,i

Following up the bizarre 22, A Million, this feels like the most totally realized Bon Iver album. Justin Vernon is emotional and interesting, without losing sight of the album as a whole. It’s strange, but familiar.

A Hella Mega Look at the New Green Day, Fall Out Boy, and Weezer Songs

Prepare to party like it’s 2005.  With the leaked news of the upcoming Mega Hella tour, many adults who grew up with pop-punk and emo tastes and also probably entered junior high between 2004 and 2007 collectively shat our pants.  The confirmation that it was real in a midday webcast was like waking up from an amazing dream and realizing that it wasn’t a dream at all.  Yes, Green Day, Fall Out Boy, and Weezer (with support from The Interrupters) will indeed tour together next year.  Continue reading

Michael Lee-The Only Worlds We Know

The hardest part about poetry is that so many great poems come from loss.  Michael Lee’s poetry is often haunted by a great sense of loss, and his ruminations on memory, death, and recovery are often difficult to process, as they are so loaded with weight.  In his first full-length collection The Only Worlds We Know,  Lee memorializes those he’s lost in one of the most emotional collections in recent memory. Continue reading

The Rolling Stones-Metlife Stadium-8/5/19

In Marc Maron’s 2017 special, Too Real, he recounts seeing a Rolling Stones reunion show and all his fears that it would be bad.  One of the jokes many twists is that almost immediately after the show started, Maron starts weeping in awe of seeing The Stones live.  While I was not as nervous as the WTF host on Monday night, I was certainly on the more reserved end of excitement in Metlife Stadium for The Stones’ No Filter tour, and, like Maron, I was absolutely floored by how great the band are fifty years into their career.

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Slaughter Beach, Dog-Safe and Also No Fear

On his third record under the Slaughter Beach, Dog moniker, Jake Ewald has found a way to be an emotional and interesting storyteller.  Safe and Also No Fear is the former Modern Baseball singer’s most consistent effort with the project yet.  While the musician still paints very specific sketches of people and places, he isn’t as concerned about stories, as he was on Welcome, or finding a new voice for himself, as he was on Birdie.  Safe has the confidence of a band that have finally found their voice and wanted to make a great record that expands on what they’ve built. Continue reading