The final month of every year degenerates into an unrecognizable, oversaturated rat race where every music and culture publication regurgitates the same handful of records in the form of their “Top 10 Records of [Insert Year].” It’s the cold hard truth, but we abide. There’s so much stock invested in commodifying art and reducing it into tiers and rankings, yet we inevitably end up with the same or similar results. 

The line of delineation is faint at best.

Truthfully, the whole list thing is a futile exercise to satiate music journalism boredom when the release calendar begins to resemble a baren cupboard on a Wednesday afternoon. But damnit, we writers deserve a month’s worth of mindless writing exercises that allow us to reflect on all the music that made our hearts sing, bodies shiver, or even music that caused us to rip out our headphones in disgust and fatigue. 

In all likelihood, the list you’re about to see may very well resemble the 50 others you’ve encountered these past couple of weeks. But that’s ok, it’s still my list, and I genuinely enjoy each record in the order they appear.


50. pizzagirl – softcore mourn: Liam Brown’s words of millennial unease are sagelike for Gen Z listeners but humorous enough to maintain their evasive interest, a line many all too serious and sad “indie” artists struggle to toe. But pizzagirl manages it effortlessly while sounding miraculously fresh with its early 2000s indietronica revivalism.

49. jess joy – PATREEARCHY: It’s difficult to indulge in a fairy-tale world that feels like it is in constant danger of dovetailing into a hellish nightmare, but if you take the time, it’s easy to be impressed at the complex structure that jess joy has built

48. Weezer – OK Human: Weeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeezer… In all seriousness, this orchestral, baroque pop shift wound up being a pleasant surprise that I never imagined would work for Weezer, but it does — in sweet, hooky, miraculous ways. Enough of the praise; let us all point and laugh at Rivers Cuomo.

47. The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die – Illusory Walls: Even with a fresh new post-rock sound intimidating with purpose, Illusory Walls is a starkly bleak tonal turn from these usually positive emo legends — a fitting character evolution, especially given the saturated desolation that overwhelms news headlines these days. 

46. Katy Kirby – Cool Dry Place: There’s nothing immediately special about Katy Kirby’s debut as it fits nicely within the confines of the singer-songwriter realm. But more attentive listening unravels an impressive and likable artist with wit, attitude, and compelling lyrics, even if they’re painted with broad strokes.

45. Hana Vu – Public Storage: At only 21 years of age, few artists can reach inside, pull tangled pain up from the depths, and articulate it clearly like Hana Vu has done so powerfully through the stripped-back bedroom pop of Public Storage.

44. LUMP – Animal:  Following up last year’s Song for Our Daughter, Laura Marling wanted to remind everyone, once again, that she’s much more than just another indie-folk singer with poignant prose and poetry, not that she had to anyway. 

43. Baby Keem – The Melodic Blue: It’s by no means a perfect record, but the much-anticipated full-length from Baby Keem is a joyous and dynamic offering that proves the rapper has enough talent to escape his cousin’s shadow and negate criticism of industry nepotism.

42. Xenia Rubinos – Una Rosa: Xenia Rubinos exists within her own world and spectrum. No one knows what to expect from her, but she always leads with one foot rooted in the future, and it shows as Una Rosa is an excellent offering of glitch pop that sounds like it’s not supposed to exist yet possesses a heart that says it should.

41. Backxwash – I LIE HERE BURIED WITH MY RINGS AND MY DRESSES: Backxwash has become a towering, nebulous shadow over the bedside with her menacing bars and an uncanny ear for hellish beats and clangor. And I LIE HERE BURIED WITH MY RINGS AND MY DRESSES may be the most daunting display of her torrential arsenal.

40. James Blake – Friends That Break Your Heart: James Blake has always been one for sadness and simping. But the magical effect of his despair has waned as of late. But on Blake’s latest, the gloom is glowing again, as the personal and introspective has become more cynical than ever, and somehow, this is a refreshing development for him.  

39. N0V3L – Non-Fiction: Whatever is brewing within the Crack Cloud collective, some of the most exciting and socio-politically pressing punk music is being made. Non-Fiction by N0V3l is yet another pessimistic but vital post-punk offshoot of the Canadian creative collective about the damage levied by perpetual gentrification and rentier capitalism happening in the land they once occupied.

38. Parquet Courts – Sympathy For Life:  Sympathy For Life won’t ever be deemed as Parquet Courts’ best record. But the New York outfit can always be relied on to deliver the goods, especially when creating outrageously danceable punk gems with hyper-aware flair, which Sympathy of Life is undeniably full of. 

37. Loraine James – Reflection: Loraine James is a creator of worlds but can quickly destroy and deconstruct them into their microscopic parts with a calculated flip of a switch. Reflection is techno with breathtaking smarts and complexity, and it’s all because James is a singular talent with a precise ear for those moments between creation and ruin.

36. Dean Blunt – Black Metal 2: Dean Blunt can just casually emerge from obscurity and drop heat whenever he wants, and he’ll have us all in the palm of his hands. Welp, that’s exactly what happened when he dropped the hazy and obscure sequel to his 2014 record of the same title. 

35. Parannoul – To See the Next Part of the Dream: Dancing under indigo-hued skies, filled with glowing embers of love letters to your childhood burned to nothing, Parannoul’s sophomore captures youth gone astray elegantly through a shoegaze spectacle that swells with hope and purpose, even when growing old has become a nightmare.

34. The Killers – Pressure Machine: With their past two records, The Killers have caught second wind with a sound as sincere and sweeping as the arena rock bangers they would create as young men in the early aughts. Except maturity has kicked in, and it wears sunbaked leather boots and weathered Levis. 

33. Porches – All Day Gentle Hold: After what many would deem to be a two-album slump, following 2016’s breakout success of Pool, Aaron Maine returned to his more band-oriented roots on a record steeped in infectious sorrow pronounced by an endless amount of care-free hooks. It’s his best in a while.

32. SLONK – Where Do You See Yourself in Five Years?: There’s nothing groundbreaking happening with this quaintly emo, gang vocal-ladened record. Still, its earnest, lo-fi charm is enough to heartbreakingly capture the lofty expectations often poured onto us as children, but never met.

31. Vince Staples – VINCE STAPLES: A head and shoulders above the cut type of talent, Vince is capable of going deep, dark, and drowning in the depths of his mind where trauma festers. That’s S/T in a nutshell —arguably more depressive and three-dimensional than even Summertime ’06. Better? NO! More revealing of Staples a complex person. Absolutely.

30. underscores – fishmonger: It always seems there’s no possible way for the genre of hyperpop to get any weirder and more alien. But then comes along underscores, who exposes us to this beautiful lo-fi monstrosity that makes no sense but is exhilarating nonetheless. 

29. Park Hye Jin – Before I die: An album that can empathize with you in your dismal dark episodes and encourage you to shake your ass simultaneously, Park Hye Jin’s debut full-length is nothing short of an emotional mess that revels in itself, making it ever the more relatable.

28. Japanese Breakfast – Jubilee: Striking gold three times in a row is a feat that must be appreciated in the moment, with the foresight of greatness down the line. Michelle Zauner’s third record, Jubilee, is greatness. It is singularity in the form of a sweet and saccharine pop music entrenched in familial trauma and the anxieties growing fame. 

27. IDLES – Crawler: Making a personal record is a humble and admirable act. But it’s even more admirable considering the backlash IDLES faced after releasing Ultra Mono just last year. Punk is still the name of IDLES’ game, but there’s a commendable tenderness and rawness to Crawler that deserves praise.

26. Low – HEY WHAT!: Miraculously, after three decades, Low remain more vital and ever-evolving than whatever TikTok-turned hyperpop star bursts into existence. And if we’ve learned anything about Low, it’s unlikely the unearthly magnificence of HEY WHAT! will be their final or finest form—but it’s still breathtaking.

25. Circuit des Yeux – -io: Traversing the scale between her rootsy tendencies and celestial highs, Haley Fohr fully realizes her knack for the ethereal on -io. It’s quietly explosive and always seems on the verge of opening a portal that’ll swallow reality whole. Oddly, there’s a comfort to this sound.  

24. Armand Hammer & The Alchemist – Haram: Sneering through their justifiably pessimistic outlook on life like a grinning beheaded pig head displayed for all to see, Haram proves Armand Hammer are still willing to say something of importance and imminence, even when their raps are spat with venom, blood, and a bit of sarcasm.

23. Injury Reserve – By the Time I Get to Phoenix: Many speculated it to mark the end of Injury Reserve, but their latest is the first breath of new life that still remembers its why and where it was. The late Stepa J. Groggs still presides over this record, but evolution is clear. Oh, how impossible it is for art to exist in this space, yet Injury Reserve has managed it flawlessly. 

22. Portrayal of Guilt – CHRISTFUCKER: CHRISTFUCKER beckoned listeners deeper into Portrayal of Guilt’s vicious noise trap once more in 2021. Tricking listeners with something a bit more palatable is a fittingly sinister move, and it makes their latest that much more diabolical and frightening.

21. Tyler, the Creator – CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST: A bit of a throwback to his younger, more unpredictable years, CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST allowed Tyler, the creator to recapture that grit and unbridled energy that launched his career, while also carrying over the maturity he’s shown in recent years, both musically and lyrically.

20. Spellling – The Turning Wheel: Desperation for requited love courses through Chrystia Cabral’s desperate pleas in a voice so sonorous and bewitching, it’s impossible to avert your attention. The Turning Wheel is an alluring call to reach out, resurrect, and reciprocate the light that burned out while embracing the darkness seeping in.

19. Lil Ugly Mane – volcanic bird enemy and the voiced concern: Even with the cult-like fascination that he’s amassed, the heart and hype of his art is perpetually questioned. But this wonky-ass, miserably personal album, both in concept and execution, is proof that the talent within and the person behind it is earnest and always has been.

18. Cedric Noel – Hang Time: Hang Time is a trepid, underrated gem from an overlooked artist — an album about being in-between places, floating around in limbo while searching for something or someone that will keep you tethered. 

17. Squid – Bright Green Field: As much as I tried, Bright Green Field just didn’t click with me for a good few months. Then one day, out of the long verdant grasses that occupy this album cover, the debut from the new-aged, post-punk weirdos bit me in the ass, waking me from blindness. Squid is inevitable.

16. Karima Walker – Waking the Dreaming Body: Karima Walker’s Waking the Dreaming Body is a balm for the soul, a place for rest, and far more effective of a guided meditation than any app on your phone. It encourages you to unplug, not from the incessant hum of said phone, but from the bustling noise that drowns the aural beauty of life itself.

15. Black Marble – Fast Idol: Nostalgia is a big, nasty word, but for some, it tastes delightful. For Chris Stewart and his latest, Fast Idol, nostalgia is a treat he can’t stop eating. But that’s ok. There will always be a need for artists like Stewart, reminding us to hold on to a moment — a memory — cherishing them, knowing very well it’s all we have in the end.

14. Armlock – Trust: Though it seems like simple singer-songwriter music made in the bedroom, a surprising sheen makes Trust one of the more compelling and underrated listens of this year. It’s seemingly gritty and disheveled in how it’s packaged, but its presentation is immaculate.

13. Genesis Owusu – Smiling With No Teeth: Genesis Owusu’s debut is a riotous, anxiety-ridden joyride that laughs and spits in the face of oppression while delivering a future in music we didn’t know was possible or needed. A molotov cocktail of funk, punk, and experimental hip-hop? Please keep it coming, Genesis!

12. Mdou Moctar – Afrique Victime: If heaven is real, then surely, Mdou Moctar’s celestial blend of psych-rock and regional folk hymns would be the soundtrack to one’s pious ascension. Seriously, just listen to Afrique Victime and arise from the grasps of which death once claimed you.

11. Deafheaven – Infinite Granite: Creators of planets only to explode them into astral dust, the brooding blackgaze explorers released what is easily their most ambitious and polarizing work to date. But through the melodic shift, they’ve remained their same cathartic selves without care of their naysayers.

10. Anna B Savage – A Common Turn: A Common Turn is the fascinating exposition of a story to an artist you simply want to hear more from and know more about. Whether she’s singing about self-pleasure, connecting with her surroundings, or mental health struggles, Savage has us entrenched in her very honest world, intrigued for more.

9. jpegmafia – LP: As unpredictable as his music can be, Peggy will stay Peggy. His anger, bitterness, humor, and self-assuredness are filtered, not by others, but only by him. This is a director’s cut of an album showing what happens when the “Industry… let[s] a wolf in a pig pen.” 

8. black midi – Cavalcade: To those who think they’ve surrendered to black midi’s unexpecting antics, think again. Cavalcade will have your head spinning trying, failingly mind you, to navigate and predict amidst labyrinthian wiring of adventurous art-rock and jazz-hued lunacy.

7. serpentwithfeet – DEACON: Few artists can take insignificant observations and images and bloom them into intensely vivid love affairs with a personal and political streak. Josiah Wise is one such creator capable of doing so with ease, as he proves so elegantly throughout DEACON.

6. Self Esteem – Prioritise Pleasure: Sweating with empowering energy that simply cannot be contained, Self Esteem’s Prioritise Pleasure is a rambunctiously sincere pop record that rips its heart out and wears it on its sleeve. The blood dripping down the arm is purple, gold, and every bright and exuberant hue in between. Prioritise Pleasure is as euphoric and victorious of a record you’ll hear in 2021.

5. Turnstile – Glow On: Simultaneous purveyors and subverters of hardcore, Turnstile delivered the type of record that could catalyze a whole new revival for the genre. Lofty, yes. But this is the type of experimentation and boldness essential to keeping a scene with such rich history and vitality alive —even if gatekeepers get upset along the way.

4. McKinley Dixon – For My Mama And Anyone Who Look Like Her: With a verbose yet braggadocios rapping style, Dixon operates with a film director’s eye. But For My Mama And Anyone Who Look Like Her sees our director also place himself in the actor’s shoes, thus adding much more nuance and complexity to his riveting story.

3. Home Is Where – I Became Birds: No album screams liberation like the latest from fifth wave emo flag bearers. Aggressive, searing, and to be communally sung, I Became Birds is an aptly titled project that soars and flies unfettered, pissing on all naysayers, oppressors, and conventual thinking, down below. 

2. Lingua Ignota – SINNER GET READY: Nothing could ever prepare one for the amount of raw emotion and mangling depressive hold of Lingua Ignota’s art, and SINNER GET READY is no deviation from her norm. It’s something you simply have to experience in all of its shocking and overbearing magnificence to grasp.

1. Black Country, New Road – For The First Time: A record that far surpasses the necessity of any and all comparisons out there, For The First Time saw the band construct a world where self-abnegation abounds and anxiety festers. And yet, experimental ingenuity shines a light through all its darkness. For The First Time was an unassuming beacon of light in another bleak year but was a light nonetheless.

TOP 100 SONGS OF 2021: