In sixth grade I became an alter server for my school’s parish. Whenever I had to work a funeral or wedding, I’d get a small amount of money. Maybe $10. I remember, vividly, wanting more than anything Bow Wow’s Wanted as my first purchase with this new-found, self-earned money. A compact disc. It was 2005. My sister had Good Charlotte and Sum 41 CDs that I listened to every chance I could. Then, Dashboard Confessional consumed the rest of middle school. I received an iPod when I graduated eighth grade. Farewell physical CDs until like nearly everybody else I began collecting 45s.
I probably listened to more albums this year than ever before. Every Friday, I’d listen to curated playlists on Spotify to find the newest songs. I then created a playlist for each month to help keep track. A simple yet productive method to music consumption if I don’t say so myself. Understandably, it was hard to pick favorites, so naturally I chose the very random number of 16. Before I begin to explain each album, three stood out most.
Japanese Breakfast’s Jubilee, Low’s HEY WHAT and Dijon’s Absolutely merit such distinction.
I know in 2021 I need to blog more. I have a couple things I’m working on, including a short story that I will finally publish. I’ll find my routine. Additionally, I’ll share my favorite movies of 2021 at some point. There are still plenty I’d like to see before doing so.
As a caveat, this list is in order of release date.
Ignorance by The Weather Station
It’s a gorgeous record. Tamara Lindeman is one of the better songwriters, and she proves it again.
On Repat: Tried to Tell You
END OF THE EARTH by Mavi
I can’t get enough of Mavi. I find myself just shuffling through his songs, especially when I’m trying to get specific work done. His lyrics are packed with meaning in such a personable, magnified way. Ever since I heard “Self Love” a couple years ago, I became a forever fan of his. He hasn’t even scratched the surface of who he will become as an artist, either.
On Repeat: LIFE WE LIVE
Little Oblivions by Julien Baker
According to Spotify, this is the album I heard most this year. I didn’t get into Julien Baker until after her second album arrived in 2017, so this marked a somewhat momentous occasion—first time as a fan I’d hear her ‘new’ music. I’d been waiting for it, and it didn’t disappoint. Like always, Little Oblivions features Julien Baker’s remarkable songwriting, and her improvement as a vocalist is noticeable.
On Repeat: Hardline
Butter Miracle Suite One by Counting Crows
Adam Duritz, for the first time since 2014, released new music. This four-track suite drifts beautifully from one song to the next, beginning with my favorite “The Tall Grass” as it’s meant to be digested in one sitting. It’s pretty remarkable after so many years Counting Crows are still out here making music. My sister bought me the record for my birthday, a lovely surprise. As soon as it arrived in the mail, I played it. As I read the credits, I noticed the place Macedon, NY faintly mentioned. Turns out a portion had been mixed in a studio in Macedon, a place that never meant anything to me until two months or so before I saw the back of this album. It just so happens to be the town where I’m getting married next year.
On Repeat: The Tall Grass
Jubilee by Japanese Breakfast
It’s a near flawless record. Michelle Zauner had a fairly banner year. Outside of making one of the very best albums, she published a critically acclaimed memoir called Crying in H Mart, which I can’t wait to read.
On Repeat: Slide Tackle
The Golden Casket by Modest Mouse
It had been six years between albums for Modest Mouse, and truthfully their last album wasn’t too memorable. This one, however, hits different. It definitely mirrors vintage Modest Mouse. The lyrics, dripped in ambiguity and the sounds, carefully experimented.
On Repeat: Wooden Soldiers
Deadpan Love by Cautious Clay
After releasing three EPs from 2017 through 2019, Deadpan Love was Cautious Clay’s first full studio album, and it was well worth the wait. Like many, I began listening to him after hearing the sensational “Cold War” in 2018. I highly recommend the striped-down version of that song, by the way. The former lawyer made the right decision to become a musician. His music is both therapeutic and inspirational.
On Repeat: Roots
Gold-Diggers Sound by Leon Bridges
Just an overall easy, gratifying album. The kind of music Leon Bridges has been accustomed to creating. All three singles released (“Why Don’t You Touch Me”, “Motorbike” and “Sweeter”) definitely set the scene. There isn’t much more to say. A delightful album for a Sunday morning.
On Repeat: Born Again
The House Is Burning by Isaiah Rashad
It was a long time in the making for Isaiah Rashad’s third album. Five years, to be exact. He delivers in a major way with The House Is Burning.
On Repeat: Headshots
How Long Do You Think It’s Gonna Last? By Big Red Machine
The second collaboration from The National’s Aaron Dessner and Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon went bigger, as Sharon Van Etten, Naeem, Ilsey, Ben Howard, Shara Nova, Taylor Swift, La Force, Lisa Hannigan, This is the Kit and Anaïs Mitchell tagged along for the ride. The star-studded, 15-song album was probably the album I look forward to the most. With music, and most things really, I try to find personal connection. It didn’t take long to find one here. My late aunt Janice’s grandchildren called her Mimi, and in early August, when Big Red Machine released its single “Mimi” I, of course, smiled a bit. The rest of the album hadn’t arrived yet, but the full track listing had been posted. Two songs after Mimi—Hutch. The very name of my aunt Janice’s husband. Music certainly has its own way of being personal.
On Repeat: Mimi
Sometimes I Might Be Introvert by Little Simz
Little Simz packs a punch with her fourth album, beginning immediately with “Introvert,” an absolute immaculate song. The energy sustains throughout. NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert is one of my favorite things in music, and Little Simz probably had my favorite one in 2021.
On Repeat: I Love You, I Hate You but here’s her full Tiny Desk Concert
HEY WHAT by Low
Last year, The Avalanche’s We Will Always Love You was the album I listened to from beginning to end with glee. The ideal concept album. HEY WHAT might even be better. It’s produced, by BJ Burton, swimmingly. Treat yourself to this album. It won’t disappoint.
On Repeat: I Can Wait
Half God by Wiki
I really don’t listen to enough rap. Truthfully, I only listened to this album because Earl Sweatshirt is featured on “All I Need,” and I’ll listen to anything Earl Sweatshirt. Having said that, the rest of this album by Wiki is quite good, hence why it’s listed among these records. It’s produced by Navy Blue, who put out two wonderful albums in 2020, along with a damn solid one in 2021.
On Repeat: All I Need
Simple, Sweet, and Smiling by Kacy Hill
Kacy Hill released an album in back-to-back years. The only reason I listened to her 2020 album titled Is It Selfish If We Talk About Me Again is because Francis and the Lights appeared on “I Believe In You,” which ranks closer to the top of my favorite songs from 2020. Simple, Sweet, and Smiling stands out. She’s a vibrant vocalist, altering her range when necessary.
On Repeat: Another You
I Don’t Live Here Anymore by The War on Drugs
Philadelphia’s finest return with this champion of an album. It’s sincere, delicate song after another forming an extraordinary sequence. Can’t recommend this album more.
On Repeat: Change
Absolutely by Dijon
On September 17, I heard “Many Times” for the first time. It’s my song of the year, and my first introduction to Dijon. The kind of song you never forget hearing for the first time. I had to find out more about Dijon, who literally puts everything into his music. You should see some of the videos on his YouTube channel. Him and his bandmates, chilling while making music. His passion remains evident, serving as a reminder that music should be fun.
On Repeat: Obviously, Many Times, but let’s give roses to The Dress