The 21 Best Albums Of 2021 (Part Three)
From Vince Staples to Porter Robinson and everything in between
Global contributing editor Amit Vaidya highlights the 21 albums of impact in 2021 below, across styles and genres.
Best Eclectic Album
Second Line – Dawn Richard
Dawn Richard truly marches to her own drum. Over nearly two decades, the artist has grown into one of the most noteworthy independent talents, defying genre traps and literally creating a template for young artists to stay true to their most eclectic self. Second Line is part song, part short stories, part spoken word but all engaging. Fusing genres of funk, soul, blues, jazz, hip-hop and electronica, the album creates a mood that Richard curates much like the New Orleans parades she alludes to with the album title, one where spectators join the second line and hop in for celebrations, dancing and yes, even mourning. This is more than a concept album; this is culture.
Best Hip-Hop Album
Vince Staples – Vince Staples
While Drake and Ye opted for indulgent albums this year, the best hip-hop album of the year happened to be also one of the shortest. Clocking in at just over 22 minutes long, Vince Staples, the fourth studio album by West Coast rapper Vince Staples is brief but bold. With Kenny Beats producing, the album works because of the conversational tone the artist brings to the lyrics and hooks that don’t distract from the rhymes. The album is such a revelation because the rapper here focuses on the larger context of life and there’s no sugarcoating – this is him, being vulnerable and intimate, all the while sonically keeping it real.
Best Soundtrack Album
The Harder They Fall – Original Soundtrack
What do you get when you have a singer-songwriter and music producer at the helm of a major motion picture? You get an amazing soundtrack, that’s what! Jeymes Samuel directed The Harder They Fall – a rare feature that beautifully wove music into the storyline. The British director, who also goes by the stage name The Bullitts, literally incorporates the entire soundtrack into the western film, something we only tend to find these days in a musical. With one of the most impressive artist lineups in recent memory, including everyone from CeeLo Green and Ms. Lauryn Hill to Seal (his older brother!) to Jay-Z (also an executive producer on the film), the album actually lifts the entire film, giving us visuals to match each track. Really excited to see what’s next for the talented director and musician!
Best “IDGAF” Album
Blue Banisters – Lana Del Rey
It’s a lucky year when we get one Lana Del Rey release, but what were the odds of two new albums in less than a year? While Chemtrails Over The Country Club was excellent, Blue Banisters was the real standout. At a time when so many younger artists have been inspired and then tried to replicate Del Rey’s sound, the latter album leaves no room for any other artist to imitate this sound. This is a piece of work that falls outside of the usual aesthetic bells and whistles we expect from Del Rey’s signature style. The melodies and the hooks are far gone between the intimate lyrics and the haunting simplicity that leaves us feeling even more drawn in despite the disconnectedness of the music itself. No doubt, Del Rey is one of the best songwriters we have today.
Best Rock Album
I Don’t Live Here Anymore – The War On Drugs
Rarely these days in the rock world do we get such a comprehensive album that feels this transcendent. The Philly rock band The War On Drugs’ superb album I Don’t Live Here Anymore took more than three years to come to life thanks to the pandemic but despite the delayed release, the album sounds fresh and the songs are memorable. There is a timeless quality to the album, especially on the stripped back tracks which allow lead singer Adam Granduciel to shine and the piano to intersperse in a way we’ve not heard since acts like Coldplay, Keane and Muse dominated airwaves in the early 2000s. The War On Drugs sound like the best British band import but for once, they’re American!
Best Electronic/Dance Album
Nurture – Porter Robinson
American DJ and producer Porter Robinson’s Nurture is for more than just electronic music fans. This is an album for the thinking man who wants to dance but also needs lyrical stimulation, sonic challenges and well, fun. The album works because of the unique hybrid Robinson created on his debut album but better defined here with his sophomore release. There is a beauty to the world he creates that allows the words and the music to somehow compete with one another without either really getting lost in the shuffle. It’s a tricky effect to accomplish, and it proves how effective the artist is at delivering an ethereal sonic experience that feels as much as its sounds.
Best “Top 40” Album
Planet Her – Doja Cat
Doja Cat has slowly and steadily made her way to the top of the charts. But unlike many other artists, we’ve seen her progression and that’s perhaps what makes it all the more enjoyable to see her shining at the moment. At a time when social media often feels manufactured or sponsored, it’s been humbling to see how hard Cat has worked over the last few years to get to where she’s at. But perhaps because of that journey, the artist has also been able to find the right chameleon-like formula required to excel at her multi-hyphenate best. Planet Her plays up to everything that makes the singer/rapper/entertainer much more than her peers. Sonically, she can shell out pop, soul and rap with equal conviction without missing a beat. While many other albums garnered multiple hits, this album serves up such a diversity of styles and sounds that it’s no wonder two to three of the album’s tracks continue to chart at the same time, because no two songs sound the same. And yes, at the moment, there is no one else like Doja Cat.