2021 has been a wild ride: we’ve drifted further into a seemingly never-ending pandemic, we watched the United States Capitol get mobbed a few short days before a new U.S. President was inaugurated, and the climate crisis has only become more apparent. If anything good has come from the past 365 days though, it’s the music that has been released. The following albums played an UNO reverse card on all the horrors of the last year and helped make my 2021 a bit more tolerable.
COLLAPSED IN SUNBEAMS – ARLO PARKS
Arlo Parks’ Collapsed in Sunbeams is soulful, sonic gold. Her debut album opens with the title track, but rather than singing, Parks chose to speak it.
Parks told Apple Music, “I knew that I wanted poetry in the album, but I wasn’t quite sure where it was going to sit. This spoken-word piece is actually the last thing that I did for the album, and I recorded it in my bedroom. I liked the idea of speaking to the listener in a way that felt intimate— I wanted to acknowledge the fact that even though the stories in the album are about me, my life, and my world, I’m also embarking on this journey with listeners.”
And an intimate journey it is. Parks manages to turn painful, specific moments into relatable, poignant, and beautiful vignettes. The result: an album full of sweet, melancholy poetry.
Favorite Tracks: Too Good, Black Dog, and Green Eyes
TERRA FIRMA – TASH SULTANA
I came across Tash Sultana on a trip to California in August, and I’ve been obsessed with their music since. Their 2021 LP, Terra Firma has been on replay; its beachy, strumming instrumentals and lovely vocals make the album perfect for an afternoon drive or a party playlist. Whether you want to get in your feels with “Maybe You’ve Changed,” or kickback to “Sweet & Dandy,” this album is a guaranteed addition to your library.
Favorite tracks: Greed and Willow Tree
CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST – TYLER, THE CREATOR
When a mysterious billboard reading, “Call Me If You Get Lost, 1 (855) 444-8888” popped up in LA, particularly curious viewers dialed the number. They were met with an answering machine of an unreleased snippet from Tyler, the Creator. A month later, he dropped a full-length album of the same name. Following his genre-bending 2019 LP, IGOR, Call Me If You Get Lost is a kickass blend of everything fans love about Tyler: audacious lyrics, aggressive flow, a pinch of R&B influence, and a boatload of notable features. What more could you want?
Favorite Tracks: RUNITUP, RISE!, WILSHIRE, and SWEET/I THOUGHT YOU WANTED TO DANCE
SLING – CLAIRO
Claire Cottrill went viral in 2017 with her music video “Pretty Girl.” Since then, she defined the bedroom pop genre and received wildly positive reviews for her 2019 LP, Immunity. When she announced that she would be releasing a Jack Antonoff-produced second album, Sling, earlier this year, listeners geared up for a new Clairo era. To say that she delivered is an understatement: Sling is a 70s folk-rock inspired masterpiece. It’s soft, crooning, Joni Mitchell-esque gold. From Cottrill’s dreamy vocals to the woodsy instrumentals, Sling is an album that is both ahead of its time and reminiscent of the good old days. It’s an album both you and your grandfather will love!
Favorite Tracks: Zinnias, Amoeba, and Partridge
SOLAR POWER – LORDE
Lorde’s Pure Heroine and Melodrama were both artistically, technically, and sonically perfect. From the moody synths in her 2013 debut to the beautiful lamentations in her 2017 sophomore album, Lorde’s discography has established herself as a true artist, all before she turned 21. After she accomplished that, though, Lorde got quiet. She delayed the highly anticipated release of her next project after the tragic death of her dog, and nearly four years went by before anyone heard new music from her. Then, she announced Solar Power and basically reinvented hot girl summer with an album cover and tracklist that inspired some of the best memes of the year. Though a lot of fans were disappointed by the light and airy vibe that it brought in comparison to her angsty and dark previous albums, I thought Solar Power was exactly what the world needed to hear: a summer album that you can groove to that can also be interpreted as a commentary on climate change. It’s a win-win!
Favorite Tracks: The Path, Fallen Fruit, Dominoes, and Stoned at the Nail Salon
HAPPIER THAN EVER – BILLIE EILISH
I started listening to Billie Eilish in 2017. Since then, I’ve watched her both grow up, blow up, and glow up: I watched from my living room as she took home an arm full of Grammys in 2019, and I immediately pre-ordered merchandise for her second LP, Happier Than Ever in 2021. Many doubted, though, that Eilish would maintain her relevancy with her second album. “This is her flop era,” naysayers wrote on TikTok in response to the first singles she released. Then July 30th came, and Eilish proved that she’s only gotten better with age. In Happier Than Ever, Eilish navigates through her late teens in stardom, and though it’s an experience that not many listeners can fully relate to, the music still resonated with people. She’s nominated for another armload of Grammys this year, and even if she’s beaten out by Olivia Rodrigo – her 18 year old successor that, too, has been made fun of relentlessly by the media for being a teenage girl – I’ll still root for her.
Favorite Tracks: I Didn’t Change My Number, Billie Bossa Nova, and Halley’s Comet
IF I COULD MAKE IT GO QUIET – GIRL IN RED
Following her 2018 track, “i wanna be your girlfriend,” girl in red established herself as one of the next up-and-coming alternative artists. Her 2021 LP if i could make it go quiet, tackles the insecurities and problems that come with navigating one’s sexuality, growing up, and encountering mental illness. It’s a gentle fusion of pop-punk angst and coaxing R&B – making it one of my favorite albums to come out of the year, and solidifying girl in red as a force in the music industry.
Favorite Tracks: Serotonin, Midnight Love, and You Stupid Bitch
RED (TAYLOR’S VERSION) – TAYLOR SWIFT
Yeah, the list wouldn’t be complete without some Swift. I can’t help it: the Red Tour’s stop in Foxborough, Massachusetts was my first ever live performance, and I don’t think I’ll ever forget the goosebumps I got when I heard the first notes of “State of Grace” and saw her silhouette grace the stage. Since then, Red has been one of my favorite Swift albums. So, when she announced that it would be her next rerecord, and that Phoebe Bridgers would have a feature, and that she was releasing the 10-minute version of “All Too Well,” I died. None of it disappointed: Red (Taylor’s Version) sounds like the refined older sister of its 2012 predecessor and made every lifelong Swiftie shed a tear (or several).
Favorite Tracks: Treacherous (Taylor’s Version), State of Grace (Taylor’s Version), Nothing New (Taylor’s Version) (From the Vault), and All Too Well (10 Minute Version) (Taylor’s Version) (From the Vault)