2021 happened, or so we think? The music came every week, giving us a way to distill the dark and prepare to start anew. Below is a playlist of the best 25 albums of the year and some words on the musical artists who captured my attention.
Musical Highlights of 2021: Cassandra Jenkins majestic swirls, as they weaved across dynamic words. Weather Station’s thought provoking lyrics and the world that she brought to us. Genesis Owusu’s splash of rhythm and ability to make us sit down and dance. Squid’s sci-fi avalanche, that angst and post-punk movement. Tyler, the Creator’s inventive ways of expressing honesty and prowess. Snail Mail’s decidedly raw ability to rock.
These artists almost made the cut: Parannoul, Hand Habits, Wolf Alice, Xenia Rubinos, and Ada Lea. Don’t let these inspiring people go unheard!
2021 is taking us through the Summer with pulsing music. Here is a playlist with some of the best songs of the year so far, as we ask ourselves, “Are we there yet?” The musical highlights from 2021 (so far) include Genesis Owusu, Cassandra Jenkins, and Squid.
Genesis Owusu’s groundbreaking debut album, Smiling With No Teeth is the hip-hop, techno, video game music you need to dance to. The standout songs include, “The Other Black Dog,” “Don’t Need You,” and “Smiling with No Teeth.” He relates the concept of the ‘black dog’ as a euphemism for depression to his experience with being subjected to racism. The lyrics are both liberating and contemplative. He was heavily influenced by the video game, Jet Set Radio Future and will be touring in the US for the first time in 2022.
Cassandra Jenkins’ poetic, impressionistic album, An Overview on Phenomenal Nature is a reflection on life, that ebbs and flows with the magical sounds of the saxophone. It only becomes more fulfilling on repeat listens. She took a lot of voice memos from strangers and recorded everything as inspiration to make sense of the change around her. The album title was taken from something a security guard told her at an art exhibit at the Met Breuer in New York. She explains in an interview with Stereogum, “There’s a lot of humor in that for me- the idea of offering some objective truth, when we’re really sharing something about our completely subjective point of view.” Cassandra Jenkins was recruited by David Berman to play as the guitarist with his album for Purple Mountains. Berman tragically died by suicide, just days before the tour would begin. Though she only knew him a short while, her memory and grief around this loss are articulated in the songs, “New Bikini” and “Ambiguous Norway.”
Bright Green Field is Squid’s debut rock album and it sounds both urgent and scary. The five musicians (Ollie Judge, Anton Pearson, Louis Borlase, Arthur Leadbetter, and Laurie Nankivell) write all of their music together and jam it out in a collaborative way. The song, “Narrator” was in part influenced from Bi Gan’s dystopian film, A LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT. The song gives us an unreliable narrator to question and meditate on. The whole album is experimental in the right way and denotes the feeling of a medieval, dystopian environment. The anxiety riddled throughout this music is a cathartic escape, strange enough to leave you coming back for more and more.
There was a huge pile of gold to listen to this past year. It seems that these trying times have motivated musical artists to unearth substance and soar into our desperate ears. There were already a plethora of good albums that came out in March, so you could only imagine how many more sad girl epiphany sounds have revealed themselves since.
Fiona Apple obviously stole the cake, releasing Fetch the Bolt Cutters, her first album in eight years after the groundbreaking album, The Idler Wheel… Somewhere in the stars, the Cosmonauts and Heavy Balloons are therapeutically screaming, unspooling the catharsis and Fetching the Bolt Cutters for themselves. Having started composing music when she was eight-years-old, Fiona Apple is an expert at staying true to herself. She has mastered communicating anger in a vulnerable way through her voice, letting herself free of musical constraints. The background vocals in Relay whale and echo after the line, “Evil is a relay race when the one who’s burned turns to pass the torch/ I don’t want to hurt myself even more.” The effects within this song are so magnificent, it sounds like someone who is caged in a far away nightmare. She has created a theatrical experience for us listeners, with splashes of dog barks and empty oil cans filled with dirt (Rolling Stone). Also, let’s not forget about the banging on the walls, we didn’t know we needed. There is a sense of pure lava and liberation at every turn. In an Elle interview, Fiona Apple reflects on people contributing to music as audience members, “I feel like the listener is part of the band or part of the music in some way. I feel like it’s a really beautiful part of being alive.” You matter too, listener! All you have to do is let sounds wow you. So let us dig in!
These are the best albums of 2020.
50. Swimmer- Tennis
49. Chaotic Good- Johanna Warren
48. Manger on McNichols- Boldy James
47. Silver Tongue- TORRES
46. Apparition- serpentwithfeet
45. SOURCE- Nubya Garcia
44. Someone New- Helena Deland
43. Gold Record- Bill Callahan
42. The Caretaker- Half Waif
41. Which Way is Forward?- Obongjayar
40. A Little Rhythm and a Wicked Feeling- Magdalena Bay
39. Last Year Was Weird, Vol. 2- Tkay Maidza
38. A Hero’s Death- Fontaines D.C.
37. Folklore- Taylor Swift
36. Mama, You Can Bet!- Jyoti, Georgia Ann Muldrow
35. Notre-Dame-des-Sept-Douleurs- Klô Pelgag
34. Ungodly Hour- Chloe x Halle
33. Have We Met- Destroyer
32. Mutable Set- Blake Mills
31. songs- Adrianne Lenker
30. Live Forever- Bartees Strange
29. Muthaland- BbyMutha
28. The Neon Skyline- Andy Shauf
27. Sundry Rock Song Stock- Yves Jarvis
26. As God Intended- Apollo Brown, Che Noir
25. Likewise- Frances Quinlan
24. Untitled (Rise)- SAULT
23. Heavy Light- U.S. Girls
22. I THINK I’M GOOD- Kassa Overall
21. Rough and Rowdy Ways- Bob Dylan
20. Ajai- Kenny Segal, Serengeti
19. Every Bad- Porridge Radio
18. The Slow Rush- Tame Impala
17. RTJ4- Run The Jewels
16. Mydata- Katie Dey
15. Man Alive!- King Krule
14. Punisher- Phoebe Bridgers
13. Anime, Trauma and Divorce- Open Mike Eagle
12. The Ascension- Sufjan Stevens
11. Saint Cloud- Waxahatchee
10. 925- Sorry
9. A Written Testimony- Jay Electronica
8. Kitchen Sink- Nadine Shah
7. Purple Moonlight Pages- R.A.P. Ferreira
6. Untitled (Black Is)- SAULT
5. Song for Our Daughter- Laura Marling
4. græ- Moses Sumney
3. Heaven to a Tortured Mind- Yves Tumor
2. Set My Heart on Fire Immediately- Perfume Genius
1. Fetch the Bolt Cutters- Fiona Apple
There were many other breathtaking albums from this year that weren’t able to fit on this list. These sounds came from Hachiku, Katie Von Schleicher, Lianne La Havas, Duckwrth, Tricot, Tricky, Quelle Chris, Soccer Mommy, Baxter Dury, The Flaming Lips, Sylvan Esso, Ohmme, Nappy Nina, BC Camplight, Fiver, Shabazz Palaces, Sam Gendel, Caribou, Tenci, Princess Nokia, The Avalanches, and Fleet Foxes. What a slam dunk year for new music!
Check out more end of year lists from these fellow avatar people: BPMHILL, Daw, and jpgchief
Now that the majority of the U.S. population is taking steps toward social distancing, it’s peaceful to know that we can still count on good new music coming in. Although we can’t see the artist’s live, jumping up and down, sticking out their tongues, and riffing on their guitars, we are still thirsty for quality sounds. Music will ease us through the next few months of staring out our windows and I am standing at your door, with virtual arms wide!
If you like listening to any of these artists, I suggest purchasing their CDs or merchandise from their websites because they are suffering financially. Caroline Rose is accepting donations to her Venmo account (@caroline-rose-4) and a lot of them have online tip jars. These artists depend on the money from their tours and being nice will make you smile! Happy people don’t shoot their husbands!
Heavy Light – U.S. Girls
This album is exquisitely lost in an existential moment and I’m loving how emotive Meghan Remy is. Now is the perfect time to linger in some tunes that reflect on grief. In all seriousness, I’m looking for someone to gush over this new album with. The songs that I could get lost in forever are IOU, Denise, Don’t Wait, and Born to Lose. The song that grabbed me initially is And Yet It Moves / Y Se Mueve.
græ: Part 1 – Moses Sumney
Moses Sumney’s album is off to a good start, if this is part 1! It sounds familiar, like a museum you went to when you were younger, but it’s now more lavish and hip. The range of his voice is incredible and it feels like a fusion that’s hard to simplify into one genre. His music is similar to Solange’s in that it will grow on you, the more you dig in. My favorite songs from it are Cut Me, Virile and In Bloom.
Man Alive! – King Krule
This hits the spot on a rainy day or a day when you feel like no one gets you. Or when you want to scream, but in a goth way and you aren’t allowed out of your house. I was pulled in by Alone, Omen 3 at first, but Stoned Again and Underclass got me thinking deeper upon further listens. He’s angry and gutting through life with honest might and it sounds good.
The Slow Rush – Tame Impala
Tame Impala, everyone’s favorite psychedelic rock-star has given us another fleshy record. Each song has so many layers on top of each other, there is breathing room to live inside. It’s a compelling and mature album to say the least. My favorite songs are Posthumous Forgiveness, Borderline, and One More Year.
The Price of Tea in China – Boldy James and The Alchemist
The Price of Tea in China hits the spot when you are driving in your car at night. It isn’t trying too hard. It’s sounds manage to be both calm and suspenseful at the same time. My favorite songs? Surf & Turf, Pinto and S.N.O.R.T.
Swimmer – Tennis
Tennis took this album to a new level, as Alaina Moore and Patrick Riley reflect on the difficulties of pushing through tumultuous times with a soft pop sound. This album is self-produced by Patrick and Alaina and it feels like I’m on an Island, learning how to swim again. The demos were recorded in their sailboat (dream couple) with an acoustic guitar and drum sequencer. My favorite songs are Runner, How to Forgive, and Need Your Love.
color theory – Soccer Mommy
This album takes more stylistic edges than Sophie Allison’s prior work. It’s tangible and funky (in a good way). The standouts are crawling in my skin, circle the drain, and yellow is the color of her eyes.
Which Way is Forward? – Obongjayar
Obongjayar’s voice is so beautiful and husky on this EP (basically an album). The architecture of the songs is wondrous and catchy. I accidentally stumbled into him after seeing that he collaborated on two of the songs in Danny Brown’s last album (uknowhatimsayin¿ and Belly of The Beast). My favorite songs from this EP are God’s Own Children, 10K, and Soldier Ant.
Silver Tongues – TORRES
The new TORRES album seems like an intimate conversation about love- she has admitted that she uses her girlfriend, Jenna Gribbon as a subject for her art. Jenna Gribbon painted the cover of this album, so it seems like both of them are each other’s muses. The album’s writing is refreshing and demands ears. My favorite songs are Dressing American, Good Grief, and A Few Blue Flowers.
Suite for Max Brown – Jeff Parker
This jazz album, Suite for Max Brown is comprised of people I wish I were cool enough to be best friend’s with. It has experimental sounds that are both enchanting and groovy. The cover of the album is a photo of Jeff Parker’s mother- so sweet! My favorite songs from this album are After the Rain, Gnarciss, and Del Rio.
Likewise – Frances Quinlan
Her indie-rock album follows a voice which takes frantic and soothing turns at the times you would least expect. She has a great sense of humor and a unique way of twisting soft and large sounds. My favorite songs are Rare Thing, Your Reply, and Detroit Lake.
The Neon Skyline – Andy Shauf
Andy Shauf’s self-produced album has a nice cadence and his descriptions really set the scene. It feels like I’m at a bar with Andy, clinking a drink and feeling uncomfortable about saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. My favorite songs are Fire Truck, Where Are You Judy, and Living Room.
Purple Moonlight Pages – R.A.P. Ferreira
Rory Allen Philip Ferreira’s rap album is all-encompassing freedom. These are some poetry beats I want to dance to and reflect on. My favorite songs are Laundry, Greens, and Mythical.
Every Bad – Porridge Radio
Every Bad is a conversational rock album, where she suddenly yells and aches in a beautiful way. Listen to it and you will feel understood. My favorite songs are Sweet, Don’t Ask Me Twice, and Give/Take.
Desire – Desire Marea
Desire Marea’s experimental album sounds holy and spine-chilling. It’s full of South African sounds that come across as sacred. The most memorable songs are Tavern Kween, You Think I’m Horny, and Self Center.
Superstar – Caroline Rose
Superstar is brimming with character and is genuinely fun to listen to. It’s about fame and how much it’s really worth. I’m most pulled in by the songs, Freak Like Me, Do You Think We’ll Last Forever?, and Command Z.
Please Daddy – Sarah Mary Chadwick
Sarah Mary Chadwick’s album is heavy and organic sounding. It’s the kind of morose music that swings in a cathartic way. My favorite songs are When Will Death Come, Let’s Fight, and If I Squint.
2019 was a year brimming with new lyrical marvels each week, just waiting to splatter us with sound waves. Here are my top 35 songs of the year, bundled into a home. I put them in an order that could do their rhythm’s justice. This is a playlist of songs I love, in non-sequential order. Have fun dancing in the street! Just don’t tell anyone that UndercoverSadGirl is a Pseudonym.
…The below songs come from the most beautiful albums…
Angel Olsen is back with some introspective howls in her new album, All Mirrors. It holds the heartbeat of a masterpiece and lets us in, as she lets go of a significant love interest to confront her spinning thoughts. Her voice rattles from cages away, mirroring some of the choices she had made in her earlier album, Burn Your Fire for No Witness.
The three songs, New Love Cassette, Spring and What it Is are my personal favorites and they transition into each other effortlessly. The lyrics, “It’s easy if you tell the truth/ but knowing what it is it’s not the same” are all encompassing. Angel Olsen is fully owning her feelings and admitting that we all have shit to weed through.
She is staring at herself, feeling an increase of resentment throughout the first half of the album. And then we reach the song, Tonight where Angel is able to sleep without the weight of another human shadow.
She is confronting herself slowly, passing through the vibrato
of self-sabotage to land in a whisper of conviction. Her voice piles in heart break, spilling
through a synth and some richly textured strings. It is an album that will most
likely make you cry.
What a change of pace from her more pop-punk album, My Woman. She knows how to create some real, addictive magic! Angel is taking new risks to self reflect and I am in awe of her vulnerability.
Shifting from a time when our names meant more, each time that other people told us they did… from a time when we first touched love, only to be sucked away into a dark shell of mourning. All Mirrors will shatter your dreams and hug you simultaneously.