Top 10 albums of the year

Edward Nenedzhyan, Reporter

2021 has been a phenomenal year for music releases. Artists have pushed themselves beyond their comfort zones and released albums that are not just successful, but genuinely exciting and constantly replayable across all genres. Here are my picks for the best albums released this year:

1. “Mercurial World” by Magdalena Bay

Magdalena Bay has been a power player in the underground world of indie synth pop and chillwave, slowly building a social media presence with grainy, analog tape cassette video promos reminiscent of the 80s. Alongside their brand, the duo has crafted a distinct, catchy style of synth pop that blends the grooves of late 70s dance hits with a production quality and songwriting style that can only be described as futuristic.

Magdalena Bay, originating from Tampa Bay, Florida, moved out to Los Angeles as the duo began their musical journey. Their full-length debut album captures the efforts of a project that has worked very hard to reach their level of success. “Mercurial World” is nothing short of a cybernetic pop adventure packed full with songs that borrow elements of unusual genres. Whether it be the 90s G-funk feel of “Secrets (Your Fire),” the house-driven “Chaeri” or the Doobie Brothers’ influenced “Hysterical Us.” The duo proves that they are capable of redefining what it means to dance in a post-pandemic era where dancing has gone missing.

2. “An Evening With Silk Sonic” by Silk Sonic

Anderson Paak and Bruno Mars’ highly anticipated collaboration album is, in short, a loving ode to the long-forgotten world of 70s funk and soul music — a far cry from the early records of either artists’ discographies. The duo masterfully blends their strongest trademarks, with Bruno Mars’ sleek and updated pop culture lyricism pairing alongside Anderson Paak’s comedic one-liners on tracks like “Smoking out the Window” and “Fly as Me.” Every flourish and tiny detail sprinkled throughout each song adds to the pair’s chemistry and the song’s memorability.

The band’s creative influences are not only worn on their sleeves, but are audibly present throughout the album’s 30 minute runtime. With guest performances and writing credits from R&B legends Bootsy Collins and Nile Rodgers, the album captures an authentic snapshot of a music world dominated by the swagger of Little Richard and Al Green. The only flaw this record has is that it leaves the listener wanting more.

3. “Bloodmoon: I” by Converge and Chelsea Wolfe

The spirit of collaboration has dominated the landscape of the music industry in 2021, with unlikely artists teaming up to create records that are far greater than the sum of its parts — “Bloodmoon: I” is no exception. The record is the first of a two-part collaboration between the artists, born out of a conversation backstage at 2016’s Roadburn Fest between Bostonian post-hardcore legends Converge and Sacramento-based singer-songwriter Chelsea Wolfe.

The record is a ferocious combination of Converge’s sludge metal breakdowns and Wolfe’s inimitable ghostlike vocals, yet the record is neither a metal album nor an acoustic record. “Bloodmoon: I” carefully tugs the line between both genres, crafting a “dark folk” atmosphere that feels both triumphant and dystopian, with standout tracks like “Coil” and “Crimson Stone.” Converge and Chelsea Wolfe enlisted the help of Stephen Brodsky of Cave In, whose vocals add to the brooding soundscapes of a masterful collaboration and a wonderful first step.

4. “Call Me if You Get Lost” by Tyler, The Creator

Tyler, The Creator has effectively defied any traditional idea of musical growth, drastically reinventing both his image and sound direction with every album he has released. His unpredictable shifts between genres reached a defiant peak with his 2019 avant-pop record “Igor.” The record saw him shed his hardcore rap roots almost entirely for a nonbinary popstar persona, propelling the already beloved rapper and producer to mainstream visibility.

“Call Me if You Get Lost” is a subversion of everything “Igor” laid out, abandoning his playful pop artistry for a gritty, sketch-driven experimental rap odyssey riddled with dark humor and disorienting production. Tyler’s do-it-yourself philosophy reaches incredible highs with tracks like “WUSYANAME” and “Juggernaut,” which sees the rapper pay homage to the flows of late rap innovator MF DOOM and the production stylings of hip-hop titans The Alchemist and J Dilla. Tyler’s artistry is on a much higher and, albeit more esoteric level than ever, and this record is an entertaining journey from beginning to end.

5. “Blue Weekend” by Wolf Alice

London-based indie rock band Wolf Alice has constantly held the attention of listeners across the world for their steady, cohesive rhythm and minimalist song arrangements. This is why their record “Blue Weekend” came as a sharp surprise for longtime fans.

“Blue Weekend” cloaks the band’s signature sound with layers of reverb and noise, giving the band a melancholic edge to frontwoman Ellie Rowselll’s already somber lyricism on tracks like “Delicious Things” and “How Can I Make It OK?”

The band’s sound profile feels like a fever dream following a painful breakup, giving the band a well-deserved push into the playlists of Spotify users and college radio stations across America. Wolf Alice struck gold with this record, which keeps you drawn in from one dreary tune to another.

6. “Witness” by VOLA

VOLA is not your typical metal band. The Copenhagen natives launched their musical careers with the genre-defying debut “Inmazes,” a record that turned the “djent” subgenre on its collective head.

“Djent” is a subgenre of metal that focuses on heavy, low tuned guitar riffs and breakdowns. It garners musical similarities to the beat drops of dubstep and metalcore, which is something that VOLA has learned to embrace with open arms, despite being controversial to longtime fans of the genre.

2021’s “Witness” is an inimitably strange and fantastical blend of djent, ambient house and trip-hop. The album takes the listener on a journey through an assortment of science fiction narratives told through soaring heavy rock choruses and slow, churning riffs across tracks like “24 Light Years” and “These Black Claws.” VOLA continues to be one of the best sounding metal bands in Europe, constantly pushing the boundaries of rock and EDM into each other.

7. “Cinema” by The Marias

Los Angeles natives, The Marias, have spent the better part of five years meticulously crafting a blend of Cuban pop and jazzy rock. These elements are in full effect on their record “Cinema,” which is quite fitting for an album with such a lush, orchestral presentation. The band’s slick, charismatic pop numbers come into full force with singer Maria Zardoya’s distorted, hushed vocals dominating the verses of tracks like “Calling You Back” and her masterful restraint on surreal tracks like “All I Really Want is You.”

The band’s artistry is unmatched for such a unique and genuine expression of cross-cultural pop fusions, which is evident on tracks like the bilingual “Little by Little.”

8. “Ignorance” by The Weather Station

The Weather Station is a massive anomaly in today’s music industry as a band that blends the characteristics of the “Great American Songbook” with the jazzy stylings of later-era Joni Mitchell. This blend created a band that, simply put, should not be able to survive in a music industry whose climate is rooted in sensationalism and pop punk standards.

Despite the current state of the music industry, the Toronto-based band thrives on their record “Ignorance.” By taking their unique sound palettes and running wild with them, the band crafts well-written, moody and immersive tracks that keep listeners coming back. The album opener “Robber” is a shining example of their seemingly untethered musical blend of saxophones, violas, latin percussion and jazzy piano chords. It perfectly sets the stage for the listener’s voyage ahead.

9. “Glow On” by Turnstile

Hardcore punk had begun to reach a point of stagnation following its peak in the late 90s and early 2000s, as pop-punk and metalcore spinoff genres began to take hold of the rock and pop mainstream charts in the early 2010s. The vinyl boom of the past decade brought forth a new wave of musicians eager to explore older, more unusual forms of music, resurrecting genres as different beasts entirely.

Turnstile breaks the mold of hardcore punk and shatters it entirely on their record “Glow on,” which combines elements of shoegaze guitar leads, buzzsaw synths and party rock energy throughout. The band harnesses the power of a punk rock live show and channels it into a clever, almost danceable blend of different genres that makes even the most reluctant punk rockers want to dance in the middle of a mosh pit. The group’s presentation is precise and energetic throughout the record, which makes skipping any song feel almost criminal. Turnstile has accomplished a sonic feat by making hardcore punk unique and invigorating once more.

10. “The Melodic Blue” by Baby Keem

Las Vegas rapper and producer Baby Keem has had one of the most successful careers of the past year after producing tracks for both Kanye West’s “Donda” and Drake’s “Certified Lover Boy,” and even being featured as a rapper on the former. For Keem, his plans and aspirations began with a mixtape and a small fanbase, which skyrocketed when he released his single “Family Ties” with Compton rapper and cousin Kendrick Lamar.

The track was followed by the surprise release of his debut album “The Melodic Blue,” which captures an artist at the intersection of adolescence and adulthood. This theme is enforced by the emotional vulnerability of cuts like the Kanye West-inspired tracks “Issues” and “Scars.”

Keem counterplays the moodiness of these tracks with more playful cuts like “Range Brothers” and “Durag Activity,” where the rapper flexes his production and songwriting skills by experimenting with complex brass arrangements and subdued hooks. “The Melodic Blue,” which is largely self-produced by Keem, is a strong record that sees a young rapper begin the path to perfecting his craft on both a lyrical and instrumental level.