The 21 Best Albums Of 2021 (Part Two)
From Lil Nas X to Jazmine Sullivan and everything in between
Global contributing editor Amit Vaidya highlights the 21 albums of impact in 2021 below, across styles and genres.
Best Latin Album
Vice Versa – Rauw Alejandro
The second album by Puerto Rican singer Rauw Alejandro was a shining light in the Latin pop world this year. Vice Versa goes beyond the normal reggaeton style that has seemingly stagnated the growth of many of his colleagues. Thankfully, Alejandro opts to experiment in all the right ways creating a body of work that showcases the talented artist’s diversity in sonic expressions. While many of the expected beats remain, the album is the perfect template for where the singer is likely to take us in the near future with his forthcoming albums.
Best Ambient Album
Promises – Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders and the London Symphony Orchestra
Promises was the ultimate collaborative project of 2021. British electronic DJ-producer Sam Shepherd aka Floating Points joined hands with American jazz saxophonist Pharoah Sanders and the London Symphony Orchestra to create a mesmerizing world where every genre constriction is broken seamlessly without feeling chaotic or without purpose. The album is a breathtaking piece of where music can go when the intent is bounds ahead of expectation. One of the few LPs that sounds just as good on noise-canceling headphones as it does on vinyl or blasted from the car stereo.
Best Experimental Album
Fatigue – L’Rain
The second album by Brooklyn, NY-based musician Taja Cheek aka L’Rain is as experimental as one can imagine. The avant-garde artist builds on her self-titled debut, finding a way to express herself through the most transformative of performances. The album Fatigue is anything but for listeners, as the journey we are taken on feels cinematic but with a sense of reflection that keeps us aware of the experience at all times. L’Rain in two albums has managed to create a unique niche for herself and here’s hoping that her vision continues to inspire artists to find their voice and their vision through music as a powerful and expressive form of modern art.
Best “Show Them Haters” Album
Montero – Lil Nas X
There wasn’t really a comeback involved but within the span of three years, it certainly feels like Lil Nas X has become a part of the pop culture lexicon already for much longer. Of course, most of that was previously attached to his Number One smash “Old Town Road” and when “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” dropped and subsequently his album Montero released, it was crystal clear that X wasn’t just not going to be a one-hit-wonder but rather, he was going to become a superstar. Unabashedly himself and taking a no-holds-barred approach to his debut album was a gutsy move but then again, the artist has proven from the get-go to have social media savvy like no other young artist his age. Of course, the reality is, regardless of how bold his music videos or controversial his live appearances, like Madonna back in her heyday, X also knows his way around a hit single. And he showed the haters by simply releasing a stellar album that has already given us two top-charting singles, a Top 5 hit and chances are more big hits to come from it in 2022.
Best R&B Album
Heaux Tales – Jazmine Sullivan
Let’s get this straight, if I were ranking albums this year, Heaux Tales would likely be in the top spot. The album is a revelation. While Sullivan has always been a reliable R&B hitmaker with mature lyrics and delivering emotionally vulnerable vocals, this album goes beyond the radio single to engage audiences in a real dialogue about sex, relationships, society and the many challenges combatted by women, particularly women of color. The album is quite possibly the most female empowering album of the year but layered enough that the agenda is subtle yet sophisticated.
Best “For Teens But Adults Too” Album
Sour – Olivia Rodrigo
If Olivia Rodrigo proved anything this year, it was that a teenager can still manage to connect with every demographic and still appear cool. Rodrigo here delivers the same star quality we saw nearly two and a half decades ago with Alanis Morissette but packaged a bit more gently, like a complement to Taylor Swift. It helps that the songwriting and the production are top notch and there is a nostalgia factor even in the angst that the singer displays. But at the end of the day, much like Lil Nas X, the songs matter and Sour is filled with hits from start to finish, giving us perhaps the best debut album by an artist this year or the last several years. While the artist may be writing for her age, there is a universality here that resonated for everyone, probably the most impressive accomplishment of the album.
Best “For Adults But The Rest Too” Album
30 – Adele
I’ll be honest, I’ve often felt that Adele albums fail to work as a collective body. It has nothing to do with the lack of cohesiveness but rather I often have found the albums a bit too much. Perhaps the grandness of her voice coupled with the scale of the productions and then ultimately, the enormity of the subsequent big hits made for an uneven listening experience. That all changed for me with 30, her most mature album and also the most creatively experimental one. The diversity in sound, production styles and even her voice make for a more engaging experience and thankfully “Easy On Me” is just one song on the album. We get to enjoy shades of the artist at this age through different lenses. Much like Sour by Olivia Rodrigo was intended for teens but became a breakout hit across all age ranges, 30 has become the same, only this was intended for adults but has now been embraced by all age ranges. It goes to show that sharing your truth at any age can result in a universality most only dream to achieve.