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07.07.21 Sowing's 13th Sputversary 06.07.21 Sowing's 2021.5
04.15.21 Sowing's All-Time Top 100 12.31.20 Sowing's 2020
05.26.20 Sowing's 201905.21.20 Sowing's 2018
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05.12.20 Sowing's 201105.11.20 Sowing's 2010

Sowing's 2021.5

I've looked at a calendar and realized this is not exactly the midway point of 2021, but I'm doing it anyway because I'll be away for a bit at the end of this month and December is often sort of a wash release-wise anyway. So here's 50 albums that I enjoyed either a little or a lot this year, hope you check anything out that looks like it'd be in your wheelhouse. Enjoy! Also, here's a spotify playlist to accompany your reading:
50Pavel Milyakov and Bendik Giske
Pavel Milyakov and Bendik Giske

I don't often dabble in electronic music, but every now and then an artist will capture just the right atmosphere to pique my interest. I wouldn't even go as far as to say this is one of those times - it's a tad repetitive, even a bit grating, and doesn't always make the best use of electronics vs. jazz instrumentation. That said, it's pretty different and sort of out there, and for some reason I don't mind it.
49Midnight Sister
Painting the Roses

This is a fairly standard indie-pop outing by all measures, but an enjoyable one at that. It's at its best when it delves into some funk-inspired grooves, and it is also decently catchy. You're not going to go out of your way for this sort of thing, but your year won't be worse for having heard it.
48Greta Van Fleet
The Battle at Garden's Gate

Yes, this is a novelty album in many ways. It's designed to do little more than scratch that classic rock itch, which it does more than adequately. It's a successful narrative change for the band too, which went from one of the most hated in all of music to at least sort of respectable. This isn't a home run, but it's got some great rock songs.
Ice Melt

An enjoyably hypnotic and mesmerizing indie-pop record with decent percussion. It's a little more forgettable than it should be, but it's still a nice atmosphere to sink into in the moment. A slight step down from the band's debut, Jinx.
46Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders & The LSO

I absolutely love Floating Points, who may have ascended into the realm of contention for my favorite electronic artist. That said, I'm not big on the genre in general, so this isn't a year-definer or anything for me personally. Considering that they are working with a legend here in Pharoah Sanders, the objective merits of this album alone make it worthy of consideration on any 2021 listening agenda.
Like Water on a Glass Table

The second EP this year from Aaron Marsh's (Copeland) side project. This one doesn't reach the breathtaking heights of the first EP, I'm in the Checkout Line of My Life, but it's still consistently pretty. "Just Like You Held Me" is one of the stronger moments here and is worth a glance from fans of ambient indie-pop.
44Devil Sold His Soul

This was my first experience with Devil Sold His Soul, and it was a goodun. With palpable intensity and strong lyrics, this is one of those albums that feels capable of getting someone through extremely dark times. Despite those strengths, I didn't quite latch onto this in any memorable way. I'm also lucky enough to not really "need" this sort of music right now. I admire it anyway, and I'm sure it will be included on many post-hardcore year-end lists.
.​.​.​And Again into the Light

A consistently enjoyable black metal outing with moments of lush folk. I came for the former and stayed for the latter, and while this isn't necessarily my idea of an AOTY contender, it more than gets the job done. It's pretty varied and eclectic for a black metal release, which is why I keep returning to it.
42Origami Angel
Gami Gang

It's always tough for a new wave of pop-punk artists to live up to the classic early 2000s nostalgia, but this comes close. It's very upbeat and energetic, brimming with sweet melodies and earworm choruses, and has a sarcastic wit about it. I didn't "feel it" emotionally, which is a pretty big portion of how I weigh the quality of a pop-punk record, so for me this was great...but not truly special. Still, if you want something you can crank up the volume all the way up on and simply have fun, then this is for you.

I'm only starting to dip my toes into the proggy, mathy jazz fusion scene, but this is pretty damn good based on my limited expertise. It's very sunny and optimistic sounding, which makes sense as it was apparently inspired by butterflies. You'll get the same kind of fluttery, bouncy feel from this.
Multiple Personalities

This is an excellent instrumental prog album. I've never been huge on entirely instrumental releases save for a few enduring post-rock albums, but this could soon join that limited company. Instrumentally it's in the same ballpark as Monobody, except this is noticeably more mysterious and complex. I won't pretend to be an expert on this style of music, but I'm sure it will be a big moment for fans of progressive, jazzy rock. If that sounds like your thing, then don't miss out on this one.
39Hail the Sun
New Age Filth

I adored Wake back in 2014, and somehow the band sort of fell off my radar after that. This isn't quite on the same level as their debut, but it's still a highly energetic and entertaining post-hardcore outing. Basically, it does Dance Gavin Dance better than Dance Gavin Dance actually does.
38Endling (UK)
The Heavy Frigate

Created by our very own user anatelier (I'm sorry, "anat"), The Heavy Frigate is a beautifully understated indie rock album. The atmosphere has echoes of Ben Howard's Noonday Dream at times, and although this isn't on the same plane atmospherically, that's still meant to be a compliment. Even if that doesn't sound like your thing, listen to "Three-Dog Nights"'s one of the year's better tracks.

This seems pretty polarizing thus far, with users either rating it really highly or really low - but I love it. It's got some concepts that are traditionally cheesy in metal - such as all the symphonic elements - but I think they pull them off exceptionally well. The thrash solos are complex enough to be impressive. The drumming is sort of monotonous and is probably the biggest detractor here, but I think it's worth a listen for any fan of black/melodic death metal.

After loving La Gorgola, The North Corridor was a pretty big let down for me. Niratias is a strong return to form. It branches out a little bit sonically, and is noticeably more melodic, both of which favors my preferences. This has kept growing on me with each passing week.
35Japanese Breakfast

This is my first experience with Japanese Breakfast, so I can't speak to where it stands in the discography - all I know is that it's a very good indie-pop record with subtle experimentation and lush production. It doesn't do enough to warrant AOTY consideration, but it's one of those albums you can listen to on repeat without ever getting tired of it.
34Wild Pink
A Billion Little Lights

Wild Pink's Yolk in the Fur was one of 2018's most pleasant surprises, blending Tom Petty-inspired Americana with the vibrant guitar-driven atmospheres of The War on Drugs. This is sort of diminishing returns on the same product, but it's still gorgeous. There are less highlights, but this might be a tad more consistent. Worth an immersive listen from hardcore fans, but still serves as pleasant background music for just about any occasion.
33No Suits
Fool's Paradise

After Mac Miller's posthumous LP CIrcles made a strong run for my personal AOTY in 2020, I've been looking for something this year to scratch that same kind of psychedelic hip-hop/R&B itch. This obviously isn't on the same level, and is a bit more mainstream/overproduced, but it's got the same vibes and is well worth a spin this summer as the weather heats up.
32Middle Kids
Today We're the Greatest

Remarkably consistent indie-rock/pop offering. It's a bit mindless in its pursuit of fun, but it is fundamentally sound from a songwriting perspective and each track brings something new to the table. There's no song here that will make your "top songs of 2021" list, but there's really not a bad moment (maybe 1-2 subpar ones), and the rest is either good or great. Spin this from beginning to end over and over again, and watch yourself never get tired of it.
31Chad VanGaalen
World's Most Stressed Out Gardener

I sort of forgot about VanGaalen after 2011's outstanding Diaper Island, but I'm glad I returned to his work in time for this little gem. In fusing electronics with folk-rock, and diversifying tempos while varying each song's means of progression, he's crafted perhaps his most eclectic and recognizable work yet.
30Dinosaur Jr.
Sweep It Into Space

I struggled to get into Dinosaur Jr. for a while, but I think it was one of those "it's not you, it's me" situations. After giving Sweep It Into Space several dedicated listens, I began to appreciate the band's sound and how effortless it all is, like the simple but addicting guitar lick on 'I Ran Away'. A very enjoyable if unremarkable record, sure to round out the middle-to-bottom tiers of a few final 2021 lists.
29The Flight of Sleipnir

A fusion of black metal, folk, and even some country twang. Eventide conjures a star-lit atmosphere - dark for sure, but also luminous and breathtaking. The songwriting is great and the instrumental execution is technically sound. If this has a noticeable drawback, it's that they don't really stand out from other similar black metal/folk artists here, they just do it better than most.
The Machine Is Burning...

I don't subscribe to the "better than Godspeed" praise that this has earned in many circles, but it sure is impressive. The slow build-ups and resplendent eruptions are as magnificent as you'll hear in post-rock, all with the dark, ominous tones you'd expect from a GY!BE clone. This is a very cool album to have on your 2021 resume, and will definitely earn you some underground credit.
OK Human

A nice bounce back from Weezer after that horrid Black Album, this returns to the breezy, whimsical sound of the White Album. As far as I'm concerned, the more they sound like The Beach Boys the better, and this might be the closest they've come yet. Don't miss out on 'Numbers', which is a top-15 Weezer tune.

In a sense, this was a disappointment coming on the heels of the superior Applause of a Distant Crowd. The strength of the singles vs. the comparatively average remaining tracks didn't help, either. But that's about as far as I can take any criticism here - Witness is an excellent rock record, brimming with innovative percussion and guitar work while exploding with energy and melody. The first three songs here are all worth listening to regardless of your musical preferences.
25Kishi Bashi

This is a quaint and rustic little Americana EP. If you take the closer from Omoiyari ('Annie, Heart Thief of the Sea') and spread it across the length of an extended play, that's essentially what you have here. The last two tracks are the best, but it also includes a worthwhile Regina Spektor cover. If Kishi Bashi never makes another album as good as Omoiyari, I hope he at least continues to explore this folksy, country-ish direction.
I'm in the Checkout Line of My Life

The other EP released this year by Aaron Marsh of Copeland, this is (to me) the far superior one. The tones are slightly brighter and more romantic, in a similar vein to where he left off on the 2019 Copeland masterpiece Blushing. This could soundtrack any late night deep thoughts on love and life. 'When You're Smiling My Way' will melt your heart.
23Julien Baker
Little Oblivions

This is my favorite Julien Baker release, because, full transparency/confession time - I wasn't the biggest fan of her other albums. This adds so much breadth and body to her sound, making it sound all the more momentous. The opener, 'Hardline', is one of the greatest coming-of-age arrival announcements I've heard - it's almost like once you heard that song, you automatically knew that Little Oblivions was going to be her magnum opus.
22Godspeed You! Black Emperor

Luciferian Towers was a huge disappointment for me, so this at least rights the ship for my all-time favorite post-rock band. It's no F#A#, clearly, but it's probably their best work in close to a decade. They implement droning/ambient sections successfully this time, and "GOVERNMENT CAME" is one of the best exclamation points I've heard on any album in years. Basically, you know what to expect from GY!BE by now - but if you've found yourself underwhelmed by their most recent material, this might captivate you once more.
Ice Fleet

This caught me by surprise a bit, considering I was previously unfamiliar with Kauan. The pianos/keyboards/synths are an awesome touch here to complement the doom metal/post-rock sound they have going, and all of it swirls into a gorgeous atmosphere quite unlike any other. This sounds like the album artwork; blue waves, mysterious ships passing in the night, and ice-cold darkness. It's both beautiful and intense.
Bright Green Field

The repetitive squawks of the vocalist aside (which, over time, has really worn down my initial hype for this album/band), Bright Green Field feels like a landmark album. My favorite moments are when Squid gets either super intense (see: Pamphlets) or super weird (see: Boy Racers). Such impressive heights make the grating ones worth trudging through. On an overarchingly positive note, this is one of the weirdest albums I've heard in no matter what, it's at least something different!
19Cloud Nothings
The Shadow I Remember

Upbeat, riff-driven punk with more than its fair share of subtly catchy refrains. This isn't going to sweep you off your feet immediately, but give it some time and it will almost certainly win you over. This is a return to form for Cloud Nothings after a slew of questionable efforts. It's a consistent album from beginning to end, but be sure to check out Oslo, Nothing Without You, and A Longer Moon.
18Crowded House
Dreamers Are Waiting

Only just found out about this band thanks to Rowan's review, and I'm absolutely loving this album. It's super engaging melodically and highly accessible, but it never feels cliched or cheesy (at least to me). To the Island is a good barometer of what to expect here - it's an earworm for sure, but there's also something so effortless and breezy about it that makes you want to keep coming back. This has the potential to climb even higher up this list by year's end.
17The Antlers
Green to Gold

By far the most "boring" and "adult" Antlers album so far, but it's still very elegant/classy and gorgeous. It sounds like the album artwork appears - a gentle sunrise/sunset in the countryside. It's very slow to progress, but if you're patient with it, it's beautiful layers will reveal themselves.This is music to sip coffee to out on your deck in the morning, or to drink wine to on the highest floor of an apartment complex while overlooking the city. It's got style and sophistication.
16Jack Ingram, Miranda Lambert, Jon Randall
The Marfa Tapes

I love it when pop stars abandon the spotlight for something raw and honest, and that's what Miranda Lambert does here. If you didn't know better, you might think this is a scratchy debut album from an upstart folk/country act. The interspersed conversations make this feel like exactly what it was when they recorded it: just some friends, gathered around a fire drinking whiskey, and making some of the most beautiful music of their respective careers.
15St. Vincent
Daddy's Home

I have to confess that I've only heard St. Vincent's most recent three albums - but out of those, this is my favorite. It's got a nice blend of 70s nostalgia and modern production, and every song has a unique and fulfilling hook. It's super strange half the time, but I count that as a good thing - makes this stand out even more.
14Fruit Bats
The Pet Parade

You'd be forgiven for not knowing who Fruit Bats are (and I barely did either before this record, outside of a few casual mentions by other users), but here is your official notice to check them out. The Pet Parade is a fully fleshed out indie-pop record that feels like The Shins, only better. Overflowing with hooks and catchy choruses yet not once sounding forced, this is just about as good as indie-pop gets. It's not experimental or groundbreaking, it's just really fucking good.
13Nick Cave and Warren Ellis

The elder statesman of goth version of Nick Cave isn't for everyone (as we witnessed on Ghosteen), but if you enjoy his most recent work, then Carnage is another essential piece. His collaboration with Warren Ellis is haunting, especially on the electronically-underscored opener 'Hand of God'. We even get a racial protest song via 'White Elephant', which is powerful, moving, and an immediate contender for the top 10 songs of 2021. Don't miss out on this dreary, frightening masterpiece.
12Cassandra Jenkins
An Overview on Phenomenal Nature

An Overview on Phenomenal Nature unravels like a soundtrack to a film about Earth's beauty. Featuring breathtaking ambience, woodwinds, piano, and spoken passages, it's brimming with philosophical musings and an intangible spirituality. Jenkins' voice floats across the length of the experience like a soft, lush cloud. Sunnyvale might have said it best in the summary of his review: "It sounds like what the album art looks like."
11Valerie June
The Moon And Stars: Prescriptions for Dreamers

The Moon And Stars: Prescriptions for Dreamers is a nearly perfect blend of blues, soul, country, and psychedelic music. June isn't afraid to unleash the full power of her voice, as we witness on Call Me A Fool, nor is she afraid to reveal her ethnic roots ('African Proverb'). This piece features such pristine production that every note feels resplendent: just take Colors for instance, which might just be the prettiest ballad of the year. This isn't something I'd normally go for, but The Moon And Stars is so stunning that I can't resist its aesthetic beauty or its charming character.
10Black Midi

The subject of extremely polarized takes here on Sputnik, I stand closer to the side of "Cavalcade is groundbreaking". Everyone keeps saying it is a modern take on King Crimson like that's a bad thing; I love the progressive and wildly unpredictable progressions here. The vocals bothered me at first, but once I acquired a taste for them, I realized that they fit the style of music perfectly. This is 100% a boundary-pusher; so if you're afraid of the challenge then I wouldn't even bother with this. If you're up for a seriously weird and wholly entertaining ride though, then this is 2021's newest and biggest/baddest attraction.
9The Notwist
Vertigo Days

This reminds me of late 90s/early 00s indie-rock at its finest. It's a little bit Radiohead, but it's also a blend of some of that era's most melodic and luscious groups. The way the tracks all flow together and alternate between percussively jarring/uneven and surgingly melodic/beautiful is something to behold. Vertigo Days is another one of those albums that sort of sounds like its artwork - in this case, it's a romantic but mysterious night spent under the stars, observing the majesty of the universe while pondering your place amongst it all.
8Porter Robinson

Few albums can be so immediately accessible and upbeat/chirpy and still sound this good. Nurture adopts its namesake and extends a loving embrace to anyone willing to accept one after a horrid 2020. The pop melodies are as addicting as any I've heard in years, and the electronic arrangements are both lush and surprisingly intricate. Think Chvrches, but even happier and infinitely better. This might be a weird thing to say, but I feel like this somehow carries the spirit of pop-punk in it. It's so warm and optimistic...something I haven't felt since Yellowcard was in their prime. Maybe (most likely) I'm projecting personal perceptions onto this, but that should only further inform how endearing a piece of music this actually is.
Dy'th Requiem for the Serpent Telepath

This thing is like a satanic circus: organs play maniacally while clown-looking demons conjure storm clouds with their riffs and blackened death metal. I'm not the world's biggest metal connoisseur, and that should tell you just how damn compelling this release is. The vocals take some getting used to, admittedly, but if you can learn to appreciate them then the music here is terrifying, erratic/unpredictable, and downright phenomenal. Don't sleep on this.
6Leon III
Antlers in Velvet

Imagine that Pink Floyd made a country album, and basically you have Antlers in Velvet. It may sound like an oversimplification, but the fact that Leon III genuinely reaches an enjoyable blend of psychedelic rock and country is a feat in itself. With elaborate arrangements, eloquent solos, and towering vocals, this is one of the most purely enjoyable guitar albums of the year.
Etemen Ænka

This is the album that got me into metal again. There's nothing distinctly weird or unique about it, but it simply does everything that I love about metal exceedingly well. The guitars are featured prominently and the riffs are full-bodied; the vocals alternate between heavy growls and cleaner melodic cuts. The songwriting weaves between moments of intensity and softer pockets where listeners can exhale and brace for the next heavy wave. It makes me recall Opeth and Mastodon - two of my other favorite metal artists. This should top any metalhead's list of albums to hear in 2021, if they have not already.
4Wolf Alice
Blue Weekend

This just came out, but I can already feel it climbing the ranks. This is a hazy, gorgeous, and occasionally grungy indie-rock record with a knack for glowing atmospheres. On tracks like Smile, Wolf Alice put together their best blend of punk and indie-rock yet, while on Delicious Things they soar to the most heavenly heights to date. But this thing is chock-full of potential hits, with Lipstick on the Glass, How Can I Make It OK, Feeling Myself, and The Last Man on Earth all qualifying as dark horses/sleepers/growers. Already being hailed as the most critically acclaimed album of 2021 by Metacritic, this album's release has been an event. You should check it out, even if just our of sheer curiosity.
3Lord Huron
Long Lost

This is an ideal blend of folk, indie-rock, and country influences into one of the most serene albums you'll hear. Floating atop strings, breathtaking classical pianos, and Ben Schneider's graceful vocals, Long Lost feels like either a dream or an extremely poignant movie. It will transport you to the lushest and most tranquil of places, and all without being so obvious about its endgame. It doesn't feel like Lord Huron is trying to mesmerize you, they, somehow. This is Lord Huron's best album, and one of the best feel-good albums of 2021 thus far.
2Manchester Orchestra
The Million Masks of God

The Million Masks of God isn't better than A Black Mile to the Surface, but it doesn't have to be. This is its own experience, one that sees the band inch away from dark, depressing subject matter and step a little closer to its members' present reality: spouses, children, and domestic life. The album is basically one long song, with tracks flowing into each other and calling back to earlier songs both thematically and musically. It succeeds in an overwhelming way partially due to its electronic experimentation, but also because Hull delivers yet another impeccable vocal performance (seriously, how far has he come since the band's debut?) replete with heartbreakingly honest lyrical content. This hovers in the same sphere as Black Mile and Simple Math sonically, and may even be their best sounding album from an aesthetic standpoint. It lacks the emotional gut-punch of its predecessor, but when it excels on so many other fronts, it's hard to feel much of a drop-off at all.

Well, this came out of nowhere, didn't it? Iosonouncane is an Italian experimental electronic/rock artist who has penned an absolute beast in IRA. It covers an entire spectrum of styles across its nearly two hour span, ranging from discordant symphonies and tribalistic chants to intricately bubbling electronics and garbled vocals comprised of an invented dialect which fuses multiple European and African languages with English, and forms of gibberish. This is not your standard indie-rock musical fanfare - this is quite unlike anything I've heard before, and it would take a miracle for something else to unseat IRA as my 2021 AOTY. We shall see.
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