Top Ten Music Albums of 2021
When it came to the albums of 2021, it felt a lot like the year 2020. It was sort of dry (for obvious reasons) even with big albums from heavy hitters like Iron Maiden. However, I don’t think there were a lot of albums that knocked my socks off which made it difficult to make a top ten. That being said, like every year, enough albums stood out to make a top ten or at least an interesting list. So here begins the list of the best albums from 2021. (No special awards this year, I didn’t feel like it)
Harakiri for the Sky – Mӕre
These guys have been putting up album of the year material for several years now. Their latest album, Mӕre, clocks in at hour and twenty five minutes (almost an hour and a half of music). It’s a solid album but doesn’t feel as good as their previous two. While on their previous albums they had cool dynamics and maybe an overlaying sense of dread to them, on this one the songs mostly feel like the same thing for the entire time. A lengthy album without variety, not even a guest appearance from Neige could help elevate this into the top ten.
Killah Priest – Summer End Cafe
I had always known of Killah Priest but had never given him a fair listen. I’m a bit disappointed I hadn’t because he quite amazing. He reminds me a lot of MF Doom. That special mix of lyricism and storytelling and this album has plenty of it. To a song about a 1930s Wimbledon party (Wimbledon 1936) to a coming of age tale of a Hopi girl and her subsequent failed marriage. There’s really a robust variety here and I might have held it in higher regard if it wasn’t so dense. Perhaps after a length of time we can fully comprehend what was said on many of these songs.
Wolves in the Throne Room – Primordial Arcana
It has been four years since Wolves in the Throne Room last blessed us with an album. It’s been a while but I recall their last album (Thrice Woven) being not as good as their previous albums. With that ignorance in mind I feel like this newest album is a return to form. While the opening track is a bit standard, anything after is top notch. A bit short by WitTR standards (45 minutes) but better to have more quality at less time than less quality at longer time.
Unto Others – Strength
It’s really hard to pin a description on this band’s sound. I want to say they give off a Paradise Lost vibe. Like a gothic / doom adjacent kind of sound. Not the most gleeful of subject matter but manages to keep an uptempo sound. At the end of the day you just gotta say they make heavy metal and their unique sound certainly caught my ear.
USAO – Xtreme
USAO is a Japanese electronic artist that is perhaps not for everyone. I thought in my mind that I wanted to listen to some music no human should be listening to and that is this guy. He makes blistering fast “hardstyle” “Brostyle””something core” whatever it is it’s fast and obnoxious and your mother would probably hate every second of it. Even compared to his earlier work he has kicked his BPM up a notch. But somewhere between the pulse pounding buzzes are some enjoyable melodies. The profanity laced samples are interesting too. Since the artist is Japanese it makes me wonder if they were used purely for musical purposes or not. In any case certainly an interesting album to listen to, but listener beware.
Arc System Works / Daisuke Ishiwatari – Guilty Gear Strive
Highly unorthodox for me to include a video game soundtrack in a best of list, there have been some good ones but none I’d put in a top ten. However, this game came out and changed all of that. In fact it’s a crime it did not win best game soundtrack at many gaming outlets (if it even won at all) Daisuke Ishiwatari has been making Guilty Gear music from the beginning but this one is something special, nearly perfect from beginning to end, it’s not just a great video game soundtrack it is a great album period.
Lantlôs – Wildhund
Lantlôs is a band that began as a black metal band. However, starting with their previous album, Melting Sun, I couldn’t quite pick up what they were laying down. It was with this latest album that things started to finally click and even made me enjoy Melting Sun even more. They now make wall-of-sound type of music, something closer to Devin Townsend. On this latest album I feel like the sound branches off even more, you could say it sounds like old mastodon kind of. There is some sort of electronic vibrations here. like a haunted harpsichord, that also add some odd texture to the sound. The guitar strings are being plucked so hard you can practically hear every individual string snapping back with a twang.. The music is like a noisy dream.
CL – Alpha
This is an album that feels like it was about eight years in the making. CL, a member of the K-Pop group 2NE1, released a single after the group broke up in 2015 (the group’s last album was in 2014). Since then hype had been swirling about the new album, she even appeared on James Corden’s show. Finally last year the album came out and it was very much worth the wait. CL is the alter ego of Lee Cae-rin (her real name) and also was the rapper of 2NE1. On this album she shows great versatility from rap to pop to everything in between. It was a pleasant surprise to hear how well the album came out after such a long wait.
Japanese Breakfast – Jubilee
Japanese Breakfast had a busy year. They released this album and also the soundtrack to the game Sable. I’ve never been a fan of the term “Dream Pop” but it feels like the right thing to call this music. Very dreamlike, melancholy but with a tinge of happiness and maybe sarcasm. Like most of this list hard to describe but very beautiful to hear.
Subterranean Masquerade – Mountain Fever
Subterranean Masquerade have been around a while but I often feel like they are forgotten. Also, I think the band name, while cool, evokes an image contrary to the music they make. But all that aside this album is inspired. Hard to describe as anything other than a journey filled with various musicality. The music ranges from somewhat tribal / mystical feeling to almost gospel type songs. Varied not just instrumentally but vocally as well this album is truly incredible. Something that you’re just going to have to experience for yourself.
Illudium – Ash of the Womb
Probably one of the most straightforward albums on the list yet at the same time not. A very sludgy, doomy sounding record but not typical. It almost sounds like a really heavy alternative rock sound. The band is fronted by Shantel Amundson, who’s vocals are add a sense of tranquil beauty to the sonicly crushing music. It’s like Yob but more meditative. In any case it’s pretty solid, nearly perfect I would say.
The GazettE – MASS
I feel very lucky to have received this album. With all the COVID restrictions in place importing something from Japan became very difficult. However, at one point in time restrictions were eased up and you could get air mail from them (restrictions have since tightened again). As someone who only had a casual interest in the album but had enjoyed their previous work, I really didn’t have too many expectations going in.
This album seems like a very divisive album among fans. I’m not sure if I would consider this to be their best album, but it is certainly their most listenable album. If you don’t know The GazettE are a Japanese rock / visual kei group. Generally they lean towards the heavier side of the scale. However, this album feels lighter but more cohesive than their previous albums. As a result I think the album gains some additional replay value that perhaps their other albums lacked. In the end this album was like an onion. I kept coming back to it (like any good onion) and every time I came back I found a new layer that I enjoyed more and more. So not only is it a great album it is probably the album that I listened to the most in 2021.
There you have it folks, another year in the books. I generally don’t write conclusions to these lists but I figured I would change it up this time. As I mentioned at the beginning perhaps this wasn’t a great your for music but if you really dug you could find something great. Overall this list is quite varied I think there is something here for everyone on this list, I hoped you enjoyed my list of the ten best albums of 2021.
Go Back a year if you want and read The Best Albums of 2020 list