Top 10 Albums of 2021 (So Far!)

2021 so far has been turbo-charged with the same artistic onslaught as 2020. With all the current mess of the world to draw from and parlay into vital, momentary escapism, interesting projects are arriving thick and fast. Here at the mid-point of the year, it’s time to talk through some of the absolute best offerings from the break-neck world of music.

Popular hip-hop ‘boyband’ BROCKHAMPTON’s penultimate record is glitzier and more refined than any other release so far.

The 13-piece are tying together the sounds of previous LPs on ROADRUNNER: NEW LIGHT, NEW MACHINE, as well as incorporating features from some of their favourite rapper friends. It’s a celebration, (part one of) a season finale, and nothing is getting left unsaid. It’ll be sad to see them go, but on this form, I’m excited for the final album later this year.

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The enduring post-rock collective Godspeed You! Black Emperor are back with another formidably intricate project. G_d’s Pee! AT STATE’S END! [sic] manages to non-verbally yearn for peace beyond the cataclysm.

It marks a significant tonal shift from the anarchy that has defined their shy-of-30-year run. It’s a new angle on the same war, and dropped amongst the devastation, there’s little to do but wrap your splitting head around the whys and wherefores.

The Million Masks of God finds famously non-Mancunian rock outfit Manchester Orchestra more focused than they’ve been in years.

The album absolutely rewards end-to-end consumption, with tracks sharing instrumental flourishes, vocal melodies, and something of a tying concept to enrich that experience. Andy Hull hasn’t lost a step as a devastating wordsmith, and some cuts on TMMOG are downright bleak. But like any good ride, the peaks justify the troughs.

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“BRUISER BRIGADE!” Fat Ray’s Santa Barbara opens with my 2021 sentiments exactly.

Every release I’ve caught from hip-hop legend Danny Brown’s fledgling record label has been nothing short of brilliant – I could’ve easily included the J.U.S project GOD GOKU JAY-Z had I more room on this list. Ray curates the beat selection on this LP with a deep-seated cultural love, and his bars, though intermittently complex, are a stroll of old-head, unteachable cool.

black midi’s Cavalcade is a rapturous and near impenetrable avant-prog affair.

Don’t be put off though, observing it in a bystander-to-the-flames kinda way is much safer. If ever they feel like you might have understood the vibe, midi instantaneously feel obliged to shake up the landscape. For that reason though, replay value is high. I’m still trying hard to chip bits off this one. All I know is I must love it. Captivating, boundless chaos.

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Sound Ancestors is the perfect title for the latest release by veteran producer, DJ and MC, Madlib. It’s almost a lore record, repurposing the sonics and textures that made him; an instrumental hip-hop journey from then to now.

This isn’t deep-sigh-and-sorrowful. This is a smiling flick through the old LP case with both the unlost vigour of youth, and the adaptable skill-set of a musical wayfarer. Arranged and mastered by indie-electronica mastermind Four Tet, you can feel they had fun with this.

Swedish post-punk quintet Viagra Boys are sleazier than ever on Welfare Jazz, their sophomore release on the Year0001 label. Whiffs of IDLES, Nick Cave and the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion can be heard across the modest 40-minute run time.

Welfare Jazz is always just a thought or two away from ruining itself one way or the other. It never does, and rides the line between campy silliness and working-class social commentary like a bar patron holding onto a mechanical bull.

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Bo Burnham’s new comedy special Inside has whipped the internet into a frenzy, and rightfully so. The bold and raw one-man-show chronicling the entertainer’s lockdown containment – and subsequent mental battle with identity, politics, hedonism and history – has had critics asking questions about the medium.

Is this a movie? Moreover, a musical? Whatever it is, it’s Bo’s most explorative effort to date on all fronts. He covers everything from indie-folk guitar ballads through to uproarious synth bangers that could’ve been pulled straight from an arcade fighting game. Watch the show if you haven’t yet. Experience these songs with the visual accompaniment they were tailored around.

This is the one. The dambuster, so to speak. Black Country New Road’s for the first time is the record that lead 2021’s all out charge for guitar-based genres. The comparison to Slint comes up time and time again, but this is no tribute album – even though the lyric “Just to think I could’ve left the fair with my dignity intact/And fled the stage with the world’s second-best Slint tribute act” is very funny, props.

BCNR aren’t copy and pasting the homework, they’re building monuments on the blueprint. Here, a heart-wrenchingly sad, jazzy, raucous and occasionally evil track list presents as mostly accessible. That’s a juggling act and a half, and near ridiculous feat for a debut album. Buy this.

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Glasgow-based Mogwai have been around so long and done so much now, that it seems as if anything they try to make will receive some fan pushback.

For a decade they’ve faced criticisms of rehashing the same formula… a formula aeons-away from their career’s first leg. Deftones and many other long-serving rock acts experience the same problem. Stay the course and appease the loyal… trite. Expand, and all of a sudden, “Wait, what? Where did this/that go?”.

Long story short, the post/space rockers seriously took to using synths in the 2010’s, and As the Love Continues, erm.. continues the love. It’s a powerful and exemplary summation of everything they’ve attempted since Rave Tapes and so much more.

And naturally, congratulations to the band on their first number #1 album. Well deserved.

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