Trevor Graham’s Top Albums of 2021

Best of 2021

2021 was a year, and like most years, some music came out. Most of it was good! Just not Clairo. I did a little top 50 countdown on Instagram, so this year I’m just gonna pull those blurbs for my personal Chorus blog. Most of it was written off the cuff, so there’s a loose feel — don’t expect Hemingway, y’know? Had to keep things short. Catch me around the forums to tell me how bad my taste is, I will laugh for a few minutes before blocking you. Just kidding. Maybe. I dunno, fuck around and find out I guess.

If you’re not into reading these ramblings, I’ll throw a little Excel screenshot down at the bottom for a quick reference, as well as a link to a Spotify playlist (or for that playlist, you can just click here)

1. Japanese BreakfastJubilee
It had to be this. It was always going to be this. Ok, not *always*. In fact, I’ve only ever been half in on Michelle’s past records. But when “Be Sweet” dropped, it was game over for these chumps — this would clearly be something special. Earning its name, Jubilee is a celebration of healing and strength, the belief in hope and the dare to love. A confident, expertly balanced indie pop record with an unexpected emphasis on “pop”. Explosive singles, intimate anthems, and an end credits worthy closer — it’s W’s all the way down. This also happened to be the first show my girlfriend and I attended “post” pandemic (is there such a thing?), so that’ll always feel super special.

2. HovvdyTrue Love
Hovvdy has not so slowly become one of my favorite active bands over the last 5 years. While this record takes a notable stride away from their quaint slowcore beginnings into a more indie folk type of territory, it loses none of the instantly memorable melodies or simplistic songwriting. Perhaps (nah, absolutely) the most wholesome record of the year. A love letter to romance, to familial bonds, to lifelong friendships, and to showing up for one another. I dare you to sing along to “Blindsided” without tearing up a little!

3. Aaron FrazerIntroducing…
Because “guy that likes music and wants you to know” is basically my whole brand, I get hit with “yo, what should I be listening to?” every so often. In 2021, this record was probably my most given answer. An upbeat retro soul record that might actually take someone without a pulse to not like at least a *little* bit, haha. Due to the sheer volume of spins I gave this alone, it was always gonna end up high on this list. A timeless record that has ben inextricably tied to my 2021.

4. R.A.P. FerreiraBob’s Son / the Light Emitting Diamond Cutter Scriptures
I was a little skeptical about a new R.A.P. Ferreira record so soon after his ambitious 2020 release, but it didn’t take long to warm up to this one and love it even more. Rory is heard on Bob’s Son flexing his beat poetry inspired flows over mellow, lo-fi, at times almost avant-garde beats. A weird album that’s certainly not for everyone, but if the shoe fits then you’ll wanna wear that shit baby!! He then surprise dropped a second record in December, the Light Emitting Diamond Cutter Scriptures, and it honestly might even top its predecessor. But a few weeks really isn’t enough time for me to fully absorb a new record for the big bad album list season, and I really don’t take this whole ranking thing too seriously — so we’re just gonna call the #4 slot a tie this year. Call the cops if you must

5. DeafheavenInfinite Granite
I mean, what a grand fucking slam this one turned out to be. I’ll be honest, this band has never really wow’ed me before — the whole blackgaze (the term coined for black metal infused shoegaze) thing wears on me very quickly. But here, they’ve tipped the scales back a bit from blastbeats & harsh vocals in favor of new wave drenched guitars and dream pop vocal melodies, making the “heavy” parts much more endurable. A robust, gorgeous shoegaze-adjacent record in a year that the genre severely lacked presence.

6. Arlo ParksCollapsed In Sunbeams
You know those stories of creepy little kids that say shit like “I died in Vietnam mommy lol” and everyone’s like, “wow reincarnation is real??” I think this is one of those things. It has to be. This record sounds like it was poured effortlessly from the mind of a season R&B titan, while it’s actually a debut record written by an old soul in a 20 year old kid’s body. It’s catchy, thoughtful, and can summon emotion into a room like you just rubbed a lamp for it. Amy Winehouse would’ve been proud, man.

7. RunnnerAlways Repeating
Runnner yes-with-three-N’s has put out a couple of EPs over the last few years, and a lot of those songs wound up occupying his debut LP. To be honest, I thought that would bother me more, but… I can’t be mad at it. This guy just makes like, exactly the type of shit I’m trying to hear when it comes to this genre. A unique amalgam of indie folk and emo that captivates but never overstays its welcome. Plus, there’s a Thundercat cover so like, what the hell else do you need? Like literally name one thing

8. Men I TrustUntourable Album
Men I Trust’s charming mix of sleepy but somehow impossibly groovy dream pop is continued here, with an added bonus of their best hooks to date. This has always been a great ~vibe music~ band to me, but this record proved to be a very successful foray into a much more thoughtful, intentional feeling full album. And as much as I still think they should’ve landed on a different album name, it remains hilariously apt.

9. Far CaspianWays To Get Out
This debut by Irish songwriter/producer Joel Johnston is full of hazy soundscapes that pair seamlessly with these fall and winter months. It’s tough to pin a sound to this record — Johnston shoots his shot with multiple indie rock subgenres and finds himself with a shockingly cohesive monster of his very own. Like a carefully curated mixtape for anyone that’s ever owned thick, black, rectangle framed glasses and at least one complete outfit from American Apparel lol.

10. Vince StaplesVince Staples
Vince’s latest wound up being a somewhat controversial entry into his catalogue, mostly due to its short run time and mellow focus. But I personally couldn’t get enough. Short records are absolutely for me, and hearing this low key side of Vince felt super refreshing after his erratic last couple of releases. The pillowy beats are a little more slick than most of the hip hop I generally seek these days, but there’s a real magic here that kept me coming back. Absolute king shit.

11. NascentMinus The Bullshit Life’s Great
Producer records can be super hit or miss — from disjointed and messy, to consistent with hit after hit. This one is unquestionably the latter, while still offering up a good deal of variety. The up and coming Chicago producer compiled his first mixtape with instrumental lo-fi beats, hooky R&B, and bouncy hip hop with features from Saba, Duckwrth, and BJ The Chicago Kid — managing to stack it all for a versatile experience that never really loses momentum.

12. DijonAbsolutely
Dijon’s loooong overdue debut LP has been going off in my household. I’m positive that any close friend that I talk music with frequently has grown entirely sick of hearing my squawking about him for the last 6 or so years, haha. It’s nowhere near as straightforward as I expected based on his past material, but even the most meandering moments still feel intentional. Genuinely some of the most interesting production choices I’ve heard in years — a textural playground provides the perfect backdrop for his raw, R&B tinged crooning.

13. TurnstileGLOW ON
I don’t think any bands were out here having a year like Turnstile did, and I couldn’t be happier about it. They’ve long paid their dues, and the tribe are finally getting their shine with GLOW ON — a kaleidoscopic hardcore behemoth that you won’t know whether to mosh or dance to. Maybe you’ll do both at once? Is that what the worm is? Anyway, I don’t think it tops 2018’s Time & Space, but no doubt this record * ~ : * gives me life * ~ :~ * and they remain one of the most important modern rock bands.

14. ArmlockTrust
This Ontario based duo kept their debut short & sweet, clocking in at just under 20 minutes to make for a record that begs to be ran back multiple times. So I said “fuck it, yeah, run the shit back” a LOT. Out LOUD. To MYSELF. The whole thing’s got a really intimate, hazy slowcore vibe to it that kinda just makes you wanna lay in a field and stare at the sky for a couple hours. Yes, I am okay (probably)

15. HealyTungsten
If this list was based solely on minutes listened… this would probably be closer to the top. It’s an impressively produced, relatively safe R&B inspired record that almost dares you to call it easy listening. I can let it play 3-4 times in a row without thinking twice. But it’s also sneakily super catchy? And I know that’s not like a ~killer~ endorsement, but I’ve spent a lot of time with it as a result, soundtracking a great portion of my year.

16. Navy BlueNavy’s Reprise
Another one of the many rappers on this list with a rapidly increasing discography, this is Sage’s third record in two years. His second never really caught up with me, but this feels much more my speed & what I was looking for after his stellar debut last February (2020). Real jazzy beats, coupled with laid back delivery. An album that I can pretty much always be in the mood for, and will almost certainly insist should’ve been ranked higher in time.

17. FoxingDraw Down The Moon
When I was 17, a beer bottle fell from the sky at a local music festival while I was moshing my lil butt off to Rise Against, busted my head open and sent me to urgent care. I saw that bottle coming more than I ever saw Foxing ever putting out a record full of pop rock anthems, haha. But they’re damn good at it — it’s really fun to get a record like this through the lense of one of emo’s most ambitious bands.

18. Yellow OstrichSoft
A delicate indie rock album that begs for a cool, overcast afternoon. I’m always at a loss for pinning this one down sonically, but I think it lands somewhere between Copeland and Bowerbirds? If that sounds like your thing at all — run don’t walk, and give it time to settle in. You’ll be surprised how much it sticks with you. It was originally a little lower on this list until I revisited it for ranking szn and realized how much of it had become second nature for me to sing along to.

19. Wild PinkA Billion Little Lights
This record flawlessly combines elements of americana and indie rock, blowing them up to a level that can only be described as simply cinematic. I’ve never really been all that in on Wild Pink records, but this one sold me. A gorgeous, layered album that will take you places if you shut your eyes and let it. Plus, ”Why can’t both be true? You’re a fucking baby, but your pain is valid too” is a strong contender for the most absurd & relatable lyric of all time.

North Carolina’s most prolific up and coming rapper dropped two records this year, so count this as an entry for both because damnit, god’s not looking!! The man maintains an energetic flow from top to bottom, complimented by soulful, chopped up beat loops to keep things equally digestible and interesting. If you’re a hip hop head, Jah-Monte is one to watch.

21. Mini TreesAlways In Motion
The Mini Trees brand of warbly alt-pop continued a winning streak here, blending trippy guitar tones with electronic bits, soft drum pads, and an overflow of airy harmonies. What this lacks in defining hooks, it makes up for in its mellow ambition.

22. QuicksandDistant Populations
These 90’s post hardcore papas (I said what I said) came back with their second post-reunion record this year. Their last album felt, understandably, a little stiff after 22 years between releases — but this one’s shaken off the cobwebs and is firing on all cylinders. A throwback sound that avoids the “dated” tag, incorporating timeless riffs and masterful production by Will Yip.

23. Porter RobinsonNurture
If you know me, and are familiar with the music of Porter Robinson, then trust — I’m as surprised as you are, haha. EDM is rarely my thing, or at least this general branch of it. But Robinson *really* tapped into something special with Nurture, a deeply human examination of what it means to search for inner peace. And don’t get me wrong — the fist pumping festival fodder is still present, but it’s much more spaced out between legitimate pop anthems, spacious ambient breaks, and a looming digital undertow that earns that album its name.

24. Manchester OrchestraThe Million Masks Of God
You know when people make something and say they “made it with love”? I’m usually like nahhh dog, you just used a lot of butter or something. But Manchester Orchestra? This is a band that makes their shit with l-o-v-e. Finely crafted, typically dense rock records that refuse to waste a moment. To be honest, it’s not the kind of thing I was in the mood for much this year, so it fell down a few slots on the ol’ EOTY list, but that’s really not a testament to the quality here.

25. Charlie MartinImaginary People
Okay so there’s not some big special selling point about this record lol, it’s just simply something I listened to a lot of this year that will always transport me back to 2021. Roomy, atmospheric acoustic & piano driven indie folk tunes. Hushed vocals that Charlie has long been known for in the band he fronts, Hovvdy (yes, the band fro the #2 spot on this list!). Honestly once you’ve heard one song here you’ve kinda heard them all, but it’s a consistent vibe that I can’t get enough of.

26. Czarface / MF DOOMSuper What?
This may very well be the last thing MF DOOM worked on prior to passing unexpectedly in late 2020. A considerable improvement from his previous collab with the hip hop group Czarface, it’s full of classic boom bap & backpack style beats to go with the signature cheeky energy provided by rap’s greatest supervillain himself. R.I.P. Metal Face, you were the greatest to do it.
”Only in America could you find a way to earn a healthy buck, and still keep your attitude on self destruct”

27. Snail MailValentine
While her debut hasn’t really stood the test of time for me, this record has very much filled the gap. Lindsey Jordan has graduated from Whiny Teenage Emo Kid to Sad Adult Emo Woman, as the prophecy has foretold for us all. Her raw guitar proficiency doesn’t feel as present here, but the songwriting chops have taken an enormous step up.

28. The Weather StationIgnorance
An album that balances lush instrumentation with pop structures and shades of melancholy. It feels really dense at first, but sort of reveals itself to be surprisingly inviting with time. Tamara Lindeman explores whimsical vocal melodies that feel maybe a bit like… ramblings? at times, but that absolutely fit the overarching sound, and effectively draw attention to a lyrical focus on the impact of climate change without beating you over the head with it.

29. Jail SocksComing Down
Man. There’s really not a lot of straight up pop punk that does it for me anymore, but every couple of years a band comes through with something real special. This debut from a young Charlotte band rekindles a magic I haven’t felt about the genre in ages — channeling the spirit of old Drive Thru/Rushmore bands with an edgier, modern twist. It’s hooky, sincere, and observes a well roundedness that bands of this ilk rarely seem to attempt anymore.

30. PinkPantheressto hell with it
This record is a nice lil snapshot of the continually bubbling world that is hyperpop — a multidimensional sonic melting pot that the majority of 30-somethings like myself would recognize simply as “the shit the kids are listening to these days” lol. While I typically find the genre to give me sensory overload, PinkPantheress has created something considerably more palatable here, without sacrificing any of the genre’s intrinsic innovation.

31. Puma BlueIn Praise Of Shadows
This record nails one of the more relatively specific sounds I reach for pretty often these days — mellow lo-fi tunes with very heavy R&B cues. It takes a few swings for the benefit of creating a dynamically interesting record, but for the most part knows exactly what it is and does it well. Nicely textured, low key sexy stuff that I often get to the end of and think, “yeah let’s hear that again”.

32. Boldy James / The AlchemistBo Jackson
Geez, The Alchemist cannot be stopped! The busiest producer in hip hop by a mile put out like 8 records this year, and this isn’t even the only one with this specific partnership. The way he and Boldy compliment and push each other on this collab is stunning — both leaning away from boom bap tendencies in favor of a much smoother palette. Quite a few of Alc’s best beats, and unquestionably my favorite Boldy performance.

33. Kacey Musgravesstar-crossed
Straight up this isn’t really what I expected, or honestly even wanted from a follow up to 2018’s Golden Hour. But as its own standalone piece of work? I dunno, it’s way more fun than any divorce record has a right to be, and still comes packed with Kacey’s ear for feet sweeping melody. I wish all future ventures into pop music to include over-the-top 2 minute long flute solos. I will listen to every single one, don’t test me!! But keeping with the “thought I’d like it more” theme…

34. Trace MountainsHOUSE OF CONFUSION
This guy put out a top 10er on my 2020 list, so there was a lot to live up to here. It’s very similar to his debut in its rich americana flavor, but also doesn’t exactly feel like an improvement. But I can only fault a good record based on my own expectations so much — it still comes very recommended. Juuuuust not as much as Lost In The Country, haha.

35. The Dirty NilFuck Art
We can all agree, right? Best artwork and album title maybe ever? Okay — maybe an exaggeration, but they both rule, and take a band as bold as The Dirty Nil to pull off. A rock band with the kind of confidence that no pastel background “let’s get this bread” Instagram meme will unfortunately ever bestow on any of us. It requires the right mood, but the electrifying riffs & sharp, hilarious lyricism here are undeniably a blast.

36. EvidenceUnlearning Vol. 1
Dusty, smooth beats that feel primed for vinyl listening. Like much of the hip hop that’ll be found on this list, Evidence harnessed my attention this year with a collection of warm & jazzy material that doesn’t so much demand a listener’s attention as it demands to set a vibe. That’s not to undersell any of the top shelf rapping here — he and his flawless roster of guests have that covered too.

37. Danielle DurackNo Place
There’s a palpable sense of soul on this one — as if it were a naturally existing piece of art. It’s been a hell of a few years for emotive singer/songwriters in the indie alternative realm, but Danielle Durack has secured her place among those that shouldn’t be overlooked. Tearjerking storytelling with thoughtful arrangements, absolutely a breath of fresh air in an increasingly crowded corner of music.

38. CitizenLife In Your Glass World
I mean, if you’ve been following Citizen over the last decade, there’s a healthy handful of songs here I bet we can agree we never saw coming. Mat Kerekes continues to spit out some of my favorite melodies in alternative music, while the instrumentation takes a carefully measured turn to the lively, upbeat post punk of the mid-00’s. Sad but make it dance!

39. CrumbIce Melt
A pretty interesting progression from 2019’s Jinx. This album lends a darker, more psychedelic tone to Crumb’s warbly brand of indie pop, if… that’s what you can even call it? Genres are weird. It sounds COOL okay that’s the genre, it’s COOL music I’ve decided. Anyway, it really picks up in the back half especially — absolutely some of the grooviest bass lines I heard all year.

40. Laura StevensonLaura Stevenson
Laura’s stacked herself a deep bench of albums over the last decade — she’s not always for me, but when she hits, she hits. And this one hiiits. That’s two (2) additional i’s, for anyone counting. From its adrenaline laced indie rock moments to its spacious summer afternoon americana bits, this is arguably the strongest, quintessential showcase she’s made for her multi-faceted career.

41. A Great Big Pile Of LeavesPono
It’s great to hear this band after so long — one of the most esteemed bands in the emo scene over the last decade despite weirdly also being one of the most absent. Very sparkly, dreamy sounding stuff with intricately layered guitars and big, reverberating vocals. Sweater weather music that strangely sounds more apt for spring. I know that kinda means nothing but come on bro I’ve got 50 of these lil things to write!!

42. AvindTa sjansen
Dreamy indie rock from Norway — lyrics people beware — sung entirely in Norwegian. I know non-english music is a tough sell for a lot of people, but trust that if you’re into stuff like, I dunno, Waxahatchee? Hop Along? you probably won’t miss the comprehension at all. The title track was easily one of my most played songs all year.

43. Every Time I DieRadical
It’s an ETID album — you know what you’re getting into. 20 years in, they’re pretty safely one of the most sonically consistent bands probably ever, metalcore or otherwise. I don’t think this record really introduces anything new for them or improves on any past material, but they’re truly a one of a kind band that I’ll always be happy to hear from. I’m convinced they’re determined to kill you and I both via headbang.

44. alliemaybe next time
A sprawling, hour long debut that blends elements of modern day emo and indie pop for Nashville’s Allie Cuva to brandish their heart prominently on their sleeve within. There’s an unevenness here that kinda stops me from frequently revisiting the record in full, but a few of these songs were vital fixtures throughout the back half of my year.

45. Joyce WriceOvergrown
If 00’s R&B was an earthquake, then this record’s one of its biggest aftershocks. It’s gotta be tough to stand out in a genre that feels a bit dominated by enormous names like SZA and Kehlani, but Joyce came through with something special of her own here that feels like it shares more DNA with the monuments of a previous generation. The feature list is also absolutely bonkers if you have your ear close to the ground in this corner of music these days.

46. FloatieVoyage Out
Weird ass lil math rock record. I dunno, normally not my thing, but I was pretty hooked on this for a little bit. One of those albums that has me frequently questioning how one even goes about writing songs like these, haha. And that’s not a slight at all — the songs are just strange and intoxicating. Definitely on the more niche end of the spectrum for this list.

47. Tanya MorganDon & Von
This is some old head hip hop if I’ve ever heard it. The whole thing’s got an undeniable retro charm that makes it tough to listen to without catching a strong wind of nostalgia — almost to the point where it begins to feel like a novelty. But it remains a super fun record to blare and let your cornball flag fly!

48. Faye WebsterI Know I’m Funny haha
Faye’s become quite the indie darling over the last couple of years, and this record sees her moving deeper into a lulling, twangy corner of the greater indie genre. For a dedicated listen, I kinda feel like it overstays its welcome just slightly — but for a “doze off in the afternoon sun with a light buzz going” vibe, there’s very little that feels more appropriate.

49. Benny SingsMusic
A bubbly little indie pop record with a neo-soul punch and hip hop foundation. There’s really not a lot I have to say about this one — it’s just a super breezy, inviting collection of songs (y’know, like the album’s title implies) that exude optimism. Definitely feels a little formulaic at times, but with appearances from Tom Misch, Mac DeMarco, and Cautious Clay, it manages to stay just fresh enough til the end.

50. MIKEDisco!
A colorful collage of loops that occupy the underground NY scene of dusty, lo-fi hip hop. The fun MIKE audibly had making this is sneakily contagious. Its repetitive nature spread throughout can feel a little disorienting, which leads to the record feeling slightly bloated — but for a short while this year, I really couldn’t put this thing down.

A few honorable mentions:
Middle KidsToday We’re The Greatest
Silk SonicAn Evening With Silk Sonic
WikiHalf God
Jazmine SullivanHeaux Tales
Kenny MasonAngelic Hoodrat: Supercut
CHVRCHESScreen Violence
Little SimzSometimes I Might Be Introvert
Ben HowardCollections From The Whiteout
Helado NegroFar In
Rejjie SnowBaw Baw Black Sheep
HOMESHAKEUnder The Weather