|A Sunnyvale 2021|
Here's my top 100 releases of 2021 (all formats together, whether LPs, EPs, live albums, etc). For me, the year started off quite slow but picked up steam beginning in the summer to become a tremendous year in music.
|100||My Morning Jacket|
My Morning Jacket
One of my favorite bands return with a late career self-titled effort. It's uneven, but there's a lot to love.
|99||Emily Scott Robinson|
All the tunes are solid, but a few highlights really stand out. Hometown Hero is a classic country tearjerker, top ten song for the year as well.
A short four-song EP, catchy and emotional in equal measure
Catchy but kinda sorta rocks
The Heavy Frigate
This is Anatelier's user project, very good stuff. I may be the rare listener who still prefers the debut Proper Nouns as a whole, but Three Dog Nights is Endling's best song yet and one of my favorites of the year.
Spacey Black Metal
I haven't returned to this one as much as I should've, but every time I do it's really great
I WANNA MORK, that is all
|93||The Vintage Caravan|
Retro Hard Rock/Metal
Another strong album from the Icelandic group, listen and instantly feel the 70s-nostalgia course through your veins
|92||All The Luck In The World|
How The Ash Felt
The reception to this album seems to be pretty poor compared to their previous record, but I've thoroughly enjoyed this upon repeat listens. Not a demanding album, but has some subtle beauty to it with a bit of sonic experimentation here and there.
Reply to All
Lovely Dutch band, this album contains an odd mix of very folky and very poppy tracks, but on their own merits they're all quite enjoyable.
The Fire of Conquest
My favorite dungeon synth release of the year, manages to strike a balance between mellow and grandiose.
Pagan Black Metal/Folk/Prog
Ritualistic-sounding metal from Romania, no idea what's going on lyrically but this is musically diverse and enjoyable
Beautiful violin album from the former Arcade Fire member
|87||Jack Ingram, Miranda Lambert, Jon Randall|
The Marfa Tapes
I wasn't especially impressed with this at first but it grew on me, there's a few weaker songs but most of this is very good, rustic-sounding country with a lot of heart and soul
Tide Turns Eternal
Death Doom Metal
This feels rather innovative with its "dreamy" take on death doom, I'm not sold on all of it but for the most part this is quite great
Bury Me Beneath This Rotting Earth
Grimy and misanthropic stuff, you know the atmosphere you're getting from the genre combination listed above
Recommended for any Pinegrove fans out there, this explores similar territory, nothing amazing but I found it to hold up well
I have a fair share of gripes about this record, but the bottom line is that THE KILLERS (a band I always sort of liked, but believed were entirely a triumph of good hooks over any substance) have made an album with a coherent vision and some quite strong lyrics (if sometimes sporadic). Quiet Town, In The Car Outside, and the title track are some of my favorite songs this year.
Death Doom Metal
Riffs as hard as anything I heard this year
Darkthrone rarely if ever disappoints, and this isn't an exception. The semi-new transition towards doom is pretty nice, this isn't a career highlight but strong nonetheless
Probably weirdly, given my tastes, I've never been able to get too into The Wrens. Despite that, though, I'll acknowledge this a quite good indie album, and one that continues to grow on me as I write this.
A pretty short two-song EP, but another nice release from one of my favorite metal bands of the moment
A bit one note, but exactly what I was hoping for from Slow Crush after their previous album, which oozed potential but sort of frustrated me. This is a significant step up
Everything I'd ask for in a new release from 76-year Neil Young
Piecing It Together
This particular strand of emo/pop-punk has really slid off my radar in recent years, but Free Throw's latest managed to reel me back in (at least temporarily). This is a very well-done example of the style
Burning Dawn of Vengeance
Every year I fall in love with an album or two that don't do much to distinguish themselves from the "standard black metal" sound but nonetheless are executed perfectly and suit the vibe I'm looking for. This is the best in this category I've found for 2021.
|74||Cult of Luna|
The Raging River
Cult Of Luna releasing great albums is the third inevitable fact of life besides death and taxes. In this case, it's an EP, but the point still stands.
This got a muted reception, but I like it. Not one of the (great) band's best releases, but a solid showing, dreamier than usual. Several of the songs are quite catchy.
Thy Catafalque riffs harder than usual on this release, can't say it's better than normal but another strong album which I turn to when I want something slightly trippy and off-kilter
Thank You For Being Here
I really like the heavy shoegaze-meets-alt-rock sound when executed well, but I feel like it rarely is. Cursetheknife do it right, even if there's a few places which could be trimmed. I'm excited for more from this band
Sweep It Into Space
A very strong late career release from the indie pioneers
Course In Fable
Jazzy Indie Folk
This album feels too "artsy and sophisticated" for its own good, but in spite of that there's something here
Kind of a weird release, the band has an interesting sound, almost hypnotic in some respects, also reminds me of Galaxie 500 here and there
I find that a lot of the revamped versions of these existing Pinegrove songs are about the same quality as the original versions (and a few are worse), but there are some notable improvements as well (Skylight and Thanksgiving are the biggest examples for me). All in all, nice to have more Pinegrove material, whatever the origin
The Quiet Drift
Very beautiful mood album, great background music which will sometimes suck you in
Somewhat overlooked dream pop/shoegaze from Hong Kong, very nice debut
Very light and pretty songs, depending on your mood your opinion this will probably vary widely
The very impressive first LP from user DungeonBoy's project, recommended for anyone with an interest in dark folk
Tales of Othertime
Nostalgic Black Metal/Dungeon Synth
A very fun album which relies upon many of the most revered acts of 90s black metal, but does so in a fresh and entertaining way
This falls at the midpoint between chill and epic, great stuff but I didn't return to it as much as I should have
This fell pretty far under the radar, but a great debut for an interesting band from Sardinia
Which Way To Happy
Chill and floaty stuff, this manages to capture a much-wider emotional range than a lot of dream pop-ish stuff
Antlers in Velvet
Very strong album, reminds me of early My Morning Jacket and Futurebirds (a good thing)
|57||The War On Drugs|
I Don't Live Here Anymore
In my view, this is a major dropoff in quality compared to the band's last two records, but it's still one of my most-listened albums of the year. Such is life as a huge fan of The War On Drugs, several of the highlights here are among my favorite tracks of the year
Hushed and Grim
Mastodon's best album in a while, not as completely sold on this as some others are, but it's damn solid. This also encouraged me to revisit the band's discography and rediscover how awesome Crack The Skye is, so there's that
Mathy/Jazzy Prog Rock
Very chill album, great for working and studying (I'm assuming on the second part since I'm not currently in school)
Dreamy Sludge Metal
The Dewi avatar album, this grew off me a bit but is still pretty impressive, King Woman definitely has found their stride here
|53||A Great Big Pile Of Leaves|
One of the "funnest" albums of the year, this is great autumn music and I'm sure I'll return to it a fair amount next fall
|52||Lamp Of Murmuur|
Submission and Slavery
This is pretty innovative with its combination of (mostly raw) black metal and Gothy/post-punky aspects, haven't heard much like it and wish it would've gained more attention on Sputnik (I didn't review it though, so blame me if you like).
The Crimson Corridor
I tend to struggle to get into most metalcore, but this album impressed from first listen. Partly, this is because I've always found Zao to be one of the better bands in the genre, and partly since the band seems to be leaning towards sludge and even post-metal here (both are much more my taste). Awesome stuff
A Billion Little Lights
This is one of those extremely listenable albums which I've heard more than many albums which I rank above it. Mellow, catchy, and occasionally very touching tunes
Kingdom of Oblivion
Hard Rock/Stoner Metal
Motorpsycho can do no wrong! I really like the more straightforward bang-your-head style of a lot of this, although given Motorpsycho's bent there are deviations in various directions, which is ok too
A Very Lonely Solstice
"A Very Lovely Live Album"-this captures pandemic isolation pretty well, and provides a very nice set of more reserved renditions of Fleet Foxes tunes (the tracklist is heavy on Shore-era songs)
|47||Emma Ruth Rundle|
Engine of Hell
Dewi's review for this is likely the best I read all year, resonated with me even more as my lost my mom last month, can't say I've quite reached the same level of emotional attachment to this record but it is a very strong release in a minimalistic style which can be hard to pull off
Where the Gloom Becomes Sound
A (very) early 2021 highlight, excels with nice riffs and occult atmosphere
This Russian band plays a style fusing post-rock and shoegaze into a very pretty mixture. It's nothing which reinvents the wheel, but very good for all that.
|44||I Feel Fine|
The Cold in Every Shelter
Emo/Punk (With Gang Vocals Galore)
I've always loved the utilization of gang vocals in certain emo and punk songs, and here I Feel Fine stretch this occasional styling out to cover nearly all the vocals on the album. It might overstay its welcome a bit, but still a damn fine set of songs. A band to watch!
A Color of the Sky
Gorgeous dreamy stuff, go read Sowing's very inviting review of this if you need more convincing that you should check it
The Moon And Stars: Prescriptions for Dreamers
Valerie June has seemingly "made it" now, you may well have heard her song "You And I" off this record recently on a prominent commercial. She deserves it, this is a wonderful album, if slightly uneven. Her voice repelled me at first but grew on me rapidly, so don't let that scare you!
|41||The Flight Of Sleipnir|
One of the most consistent (fairly) obscure names in the underground metal scene are back with another great release. Eventide sees the band again flirting with blackened stylings like their previous effort, but there are predictably diverse genre influences. Another strong set of songs.
In Quiet Moments
This is album is certainly too long, but most of its runtime is wonderful. Beautiful songs overflowing with human warmth, which is nice vibe to have in the middle of a pandemic. Karen Peris and Penelope Isles both contributed prominently to this album as well as releasing their own records which also feature on this list.
Über den Sternen
Empyrium's releases are quite diverse in style, but I dig everything they've ever released (to varying degrees). This is no exception, it has that "vintage" feeling which is hard to quantify but adds a lot of atmosphere to this type of music
Illusions In The Wake
Atmospheric/Progressive Black Metal
A tastefully-executed album touching on a number of strands of extreme metal and progressive music, good stuff!
Watching the Grass Grow
Shout out to Jesper for his assistance with our joint review of this album, I'm happy to see we were able to provoke a swell of interest on Sputnik in this band (long maybe the best-kept secret in current dream pop). Album is probably the band's second-best, behind Tiebreaker.
|36||Andrea von Kampen|
A user commented on my review for this album something about this album being the epitome of "white girl with a guitar", and it's true. This strikes just right for me, however, has the perfect balance of melancholy and warmth which I look for in this type of music.
Might be a slight letdown, but Kauan hasn't truly disappointed at this point. Their weakest releases still approach excellence. I agree with the consensus that this album is weirdly back-heavy, but taken as a whole still a strong and rewarding listen.
The Cyclic Reckoning
Dissonant Death/Black Metal
This one seems to have been a tad overlooked in the "best 2021 metal" conversation, to get technical it absolutely slaps.
Best Midwife, hands down! I don't think it's a popular opinion, but I'm confident in it at this point.
This was an early AOTY contender, but a combination of brilliant albums following later in the year and a gradual fade in my appreciation of this one relegates it to this relatively lower spot. Still an excellent album from one of the most impressive bands in their style.
Best album artwork of the year in a year of incredible album artwork? Probably... The music's pretty great too, although its blend of many genres seems ideally suited to my tastes, so I'm not sure it will appeal to all.
I'm particular when it comes to prog metal, but Mountain Fever works for me. The songs here are fun and full of life, I found this held up extremely well to repeat listening.
A Song is Way Above the Lawn
Indie Folk/Chamber Pop
Described as Karen Peris' attempt at making children's music, some of the themes might be childish but this is ultimately a nostalgic and wholesome set of easy-going tunes which all ages can enjoy. As pretty as anything you'll hear this year.
The Million Masks of God
I like this about as much as A Black Mile To The Surface, just in a different way. This is a very consistent album which rarely blows me away, but it's extremely solid and a rewarding album to just throw on at any time, even if it doesn't quite have the jarring emotion of its predecessor.
...And Again into the Light
Atmospheric Black Metal/Folk/Post-Rock
Another Panopticon album, another excellent piece of black metal and folk, nothing else to say
An Overview on Phenomenal Nature
Dreamy Indie Folk/Rock
At its heart, gorgeous indie with a New Age-ish spiritual edge which should be cringey, but ends up working perfectly
I've always been caught in the middle of the fray with this controversial band, as while I think all of their releases have great merit, I've never been completely enamored with any of them (Roads To Judah being the exception). Infinite Granite surprised me, and definitely stands as my second-favorite Deafheaven album at this time. I found this one to have great replay value, and came back to it time and again. My hope going forward is that the band will create a shoegaze-centric album with a bit heavier dose of the metallic elements then were shown here: 80% Infinite Granite and 20% Sunbather, or something like that. There's my perfect Deafheaven formula.
This grow off me somewhat after release, and I'd now say that Woodfall is absolutely the superior Musk Ox release, but nonetheless this is another strong album from the Canadians, and indeed another landmark in their chosen style. I have to be in the right mood to turn to this, but when I do it doesn't disappoint.
No More Summer Songs
On the face of it, this album is pretty standard dream pop fare, the kind that gets released hundreds of times every year these days. For whatever reason, though, this one hits the right spot for me, and has ended up as one of my most-listened to albums of the year. This is a remarkably consistent set of songs, with just the right balance of catchiness and dreaminess, and a fantastic warm weather listen.
Dy'th Requiem for the Serpent Telepath
My first experience with Esoctrilihum, but certainly won't be my last. This is an impressive album which remains engaging despite its long runtime. Top tier extreme metal with a very distinctive tinge.
I've been familiar with Lord Huron for years, but their music has grown off me over time. Long Lost, though, seems the group reinvigorated, and I'm confident this is their best work. The move towards sun-drenched, ever-more lush, and increasingly country-ish vibes pays significant dividends. While there's some legitimate critiques of "saminess" and a few songs could probably be trimmed, there's an immense amount of heart and passion that exudes from this release. Bonus points in addition for having an extremely long ambient drone closer which not doesn't distract from the rest of the album (something which happens nearly every time in my view) and instead serves as a gorgeous finishing touch which perfectly fits the rest of the record.
My favorite EP of the year, Dream Journal took a while to unveil itself to me. At first, I found this to be a satisfactory collection of mellow tunes, but one by one the songs became better and better, until I found every single one to be excellent. The biggest strength here is the lyrics, but the subtle melodies shouldn't be overlooked either.
Undir Köldum Norðurljósum
Can't say I know much about darkwave, or how this record fits into the scene, but I can definitively say that Kaelan Mikla's latest one great album. Released right before Halloween, this album was perfect for that season, with its off-kilter eeriness fitting the vibe perfectly. Also one of the more catchy jams of the year.
My pick for the best Low Roar album yet, which is saying something since Ryan Karazija's discography as a pretty impressive collection. This is a mood album, as it's frankly a little boring if you don't approach it in the right mindset, but it's absolutely stunning at the right time. A few of the best songs of the year on here, and the rest melds together exceptionally.
Hardcore from the Heart
Shout out to Trif for this one, without his review and endless cheerleading for this album I would've 1) never heard this album and 2) never came back to it enough to truly appreciate it. This is a lovely album on first listen, with an absolutely pristine sound, but it grew on me wildly with repeat listens. A set of tunes which manage to be both subtle and in-your-face with their beauty at the same time. This album suffers a bit from being one-note, but that note is incredible.
Technical Death Metal
This style of metal is far from my forte, but I checked this album out on a whim and found it quite addictive. Some of the more catchy and memorable heavy music I heard this year, and the album has a near-perfect runtime, avoiding the frustration of being too short or the diminishing returns of being too long.
|15||Der Weg Einer Freiheit|
This is a bit of a left-turn follow-up to the band's previous record Finisterre, which I found to be pretty standard modern black metal, but executed so well that it was one of the best metal albums of the decade. While there's plenty of blackened stretches to be found on Noktvrn, there's also pretty ambitious attempts to expand the band's sonic palette to represent the many shades of gray which highlight the album's "after dark" themes. The results are occasionally weird, but mostly just downright awesome.
Shimmery Indie Pop
I've liked Japanese Breakfast's earlier albums for a while now, but always found them a bit uneven. This album is a pretty strong step up, from start to finish this is a polished, bright, and inviting piece of indie pop (emphasis on the pop). Perhaps the most essential "summer record" of the year.
The Horses and the Hounds
Anyone with a passing interest in so-called "roots music" should hear this. It's a sometimes easy-going but always impressive record, with every song being well-executed, and several ranking among the best songs of the year. Canola Fields and Blackberry Winter might be the greatest opener/closer duo of 2021.
This one grew off me a tad, upon release I was confident it would make the top ten. That said, still a highly accomplished second album for Mol and one of the best blackgaze records I've heard.
While I'm a pretty big Ulver fan, my favorite sides of the band have always been their early black meta/folk works and the Gothic-tinged pop of their last few studio albums, so I didn't go into Hexahedron's technically live electro-jam format expecting to be blown away. This quickly changed my mind. This ranks pretty high on my (never written down) Ulver ranking, and has that special quality in which it's quite enjoyable both as background music and as a focused listen.
Laura Stevenson's self-titled is an odd album, I find it addictive while listening but rarely have the urge to listen to it when I'm not spinning it. Nonetheless, I've been able to convince myself to re-listen to it enough that I'm quite confident it's among the best this year has to offer. It's subtle, yes, but all the more beautiful for it.
|9||The World Is a Beautiful Place...|
My first comment about Illusory Walls is that its initial release provided the impetus for me to re-check the band's back catalog, and fall in love with some rock-solid albums which I'd never given a proper appreciation to. Illusory Walls itself was a tough nut for me to crack, but after many listens it finally struck me. An ambitious release which has a few flaws, but few and far between. The closing duo of songs is brilliant, but a lot to love in the earlier stages as well.
A Sputnik user makes the big time! Trisagion is garnering widespread praise throughout the music-listening internet, and it deserves it. The album impressed mightily from the first listen, three songs which all strike powerfully. A gorgeous blend of atmosphere, riffs, and emotion.
Green to Gold
Dreamy Indie Rock/Americana
Objectively, The Antlers have probably done far better than Green To Gold. The group's latest is a mellow effort which doesn't seem to aim too high,ambling in a easy-going, sunny day haze. That said, this sort of vibe suits them, and really works for me. The additional of Americana-ish flavors to the existing Antlers formula is tailor-made for my tastes, and I love a bunch of these songs. Another sweet album from one of the contemporary indie masters.
The Pet Parade
I seem to love this album far more than the consensus, so this seems to be a very personal pick. Part of this is surely the fact that Fruit Bats' blend of indie pop/indie rock/indie folk suits the mellower side of my taste, and part of it is that the frequent West Coast references throughout this album appeal deeply to this Oregon boy (now a long way from home). In the end, this is a warm blanket of a record, and the songs are very good as well. Give it a try!
A potent album full of vignettes based on Lucy Dacus' own youth. Home Video rocks at times and has a satisfying variety of musical styles, but at its heart is all about feeling and nostalgia, delivered perfectly. Dacus has really come into her own here, and I'm excited to see what she'll do next.
|4||The Felice Brothers|
From Dreams to Dust
My first spin of From Dreams To Dust was the most mind-blowing first spin of an album I've had in a long time. It's held up great since then as well, and seems destined to be a modern classic. The themes here are timely, the lyrics brilliant, and the emotional content executed exquisitely. The thing which holds this back from potentially being AOTY is that, while all tunes are at least great, there is a noticeable quality gap for me between the best few tracks (all song of the year contenders) and the rest.
The Idyll Opus (I-VI)
I've always had a high bar for both excessively long albums and flamboyant concept albums, and Adjy test both with this record. This passes with flying colors. While it takes a while to fully appreciate, this is a stunner. Ultimately, I think the years I spent in the Midwest for college and beyond in my early twenties add a personal touch for me. One of the best examples of perfectly-executed musical ambition which I can think of.
|2||Wolves in the Throne Room|
Atmospheric Black Metal
WITTR have always been a band I respected more than loved. While even their worst albums are pretty damn solid, I never considered even something revered like Two Hunters to be among my favorites. With Primordial Arcana, though, the band has finally crafted something I feel truly "connected" to. Is this the group's best effort? Not sure, but certainly my personal favorite.
Hey What is quite an accomplishment, about three decades into Low's existence. A wildly successful fusion of varied styles and elements which theoretically shouldn't work together, this album grew on me like crazy and hasn't let go. A top three Low record for me, and some days my favorite.