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The 21 Best Albums Of 2021 (Part One)

From Silk Sonic to Taylor Swift and everything in between

Amit Vaidya Dec 29, 2021
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While the power of the album has seemingly lost its charm in recent years, there is hope. 2021 saw a myriad of album releases and many of them felt more thought-out, structured and with a specific narrative in mind. Part of me believes this uptick in creativity has been a result of the growing vinyl movement where music is heard without interruption and in the sequence intended by the artist. The result of going back to LPs may just be the wakeup call artists needed to think less about endless singles and more about the art.

With that said, we’ve highlighted the 21 albums of impact in 2021 – and here is Part 1 (in no particular order).

Best “Retro Sound” Album

An Evening With Silk Sonic – Silk Sonic

Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak came together this year to create Silk Sonic – a retro soul band like no other. While both artists have dabbled in nostalgic sounds (Mars more so), their collaboration proved to be just what we needed to get us through the creative dip we’ve been experiencing in the R&B genre as of late. The sound took us back to the Sixties and Seventies but the production and lyrics kept the music current. While the Number One hit “Leave The Door Open” proved to be the best “baby-making” track of the year, current single “Smokin Out The Window” is ablaze with wit and sarcasm making for an album that truly feels like the perfect record to experience like its title – An Evening With Silk Sonic.

Best Jazz Album

Songwrights Apothecary Lab – Esperanza Spalding

Since her surprise win at the Grammys for Best New Artist (remember, she won against Justin Bieber, Drake, Florence & The Machine and Mumford & Sons!), Spalding has become a mainstay in the jazz and jazz fusion genres. Her ability to weave these styles and take it to a more eclectic space, be it bossa nova or neo-soul, has been instrumental in modernizing the entire jazz scene. While she may not get mainstream attention, there’s no two doubts that the artist is a monumental talent. Her latest album is an experiment between music and healing, something that is bold, inventive and much needed in these unprecedented times.

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Best Disco Album

MagicStillExists – Agnes

While the world got one of the most unexpected surprises this year with the release of ABBA’s Voyager, perhaps MagicStillExists by Agnes actually proved to be the better ABBA album. The Swedish powerhouse singer took a sabbatical the last few years and her return was most welcomed by her country. If there is any justice in the music world, hopefully by the rest welcome her too in the year to come. With tracks like “Love & Appreciation” and “24 Hours,” Agnes proves that disco is still alive and well and no, you don’t need to add a rapper to the track to make it sound fresh.

Best Concept Album

If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power – Halsey

Halsey has been the one of the most interesting artist cases of the last few years. Her commercial viability has a proven track record but she continues to get snubbed in terms of recognition for her work. If I Can’t Have Love, I Want Power was a bold concept album by the young singer who details the joys and challenges of pregnancy and childbirth. Produced by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross of Nine Inch Nails, the album pushes the musician creatively to a space where she is able to finally flourish and be seen more seriously as an artist. With the album, Halsey has guaranteed us that she’s just getting started and has a very long genre-bending career ahead.

Best Country Album

Remember Her Name – Mickey Guyton

Mickey Guyton seemingly came out of nowhere last year, especially after her single “Black Like Me” struck a chord with so many during the Black Lives Matter movement. The success of that single resulted in a fantastic debut album Remember Her Name. While perhaps not the most traditional country album (there aren’t many left!), to hear a black woman’s near-decade of experience showcased on a Nashville album (that also incorporates elements of gospel, soul and pop), is something truly American about her music. It makes for some of the best kind of country music. She may still have some roadblocks in terms of getting the airplay her white and male counterparts receive, but Guyton has changed the game and we’re here for it.

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Best “Yesteryear Star” Album

Lindsey Buckingham – Lindsey Buckingham

A lot of yesteryear artists continue to release new recordings without fail, year in year out. But sadly, with time and with a slew of new releases every week, many seem to fall by the wayside, leaving very little room for timeless artists to score big with newer releases. While “Dreams” by Fleetwood Mac became a runaway hit all over again in 2020 thanks to TikTok, its former member Lindsey Buckingham finally released his seventh solo album that he’d actually finished all the way back in 2018. The delay didn’t matter at all as the recordings are timeless. The famed guitarist keeps the music sonically pop, but by incorporating sounds like electronic drum loops and more, the album sounds current. It’s a shame we continue to relegate older artists to subgenres and they don’t get a chance at Top 40 radio, Lindsey Buckingham would have fit right in.

Best “Deluxe/Bonus/Special Edition” Album

Red (Taylor’s Version) – Taylor Swift

While the majority of Bonus, Deluxe and Special Editions often feel gimmicky and just another marketing tool to extend the shelf life of an album era for an artist, there was one that continued to challenge the norm, bucking every pre-existing rule for how a career is supposed to develop and sustain. While up until now most of the Taylor’s Versions have seemed like just a way for Swift to regain control of her catalog, her new Red became the first to perhaps build on the original rather than just replace it. “All Too Well (10 Minute Version)” is probably most responsible for this as Swift released the track for the first time from the vault and with the corresponding music video, she perfected what many critics consider the best song from her total discography. With timeless storytelling, beautiful haunting melodies and a message that had everyone talking about that scarf, it’s no small feat for a re-released album to produce a new Number One single! But then again, that’s the power and gift of Taylor Swift.

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