Top 5 albums of 2021


By Zach Smith and Adan Villa

2021 was a desolate year. The ashes of the inferno that kindled the COVID-19 pandemic were burning bright, the Capitol riots were still a fresh wound in the minds of the American public and a new president was elected, much to the chagrin of a large percentage of the American public. It seemed as if nothing would be the same, and that a wasteland America would be the new normal. Music appeared to be the only constant, soaring as high as it ever did since the start of the pandemic.

                                                               #5 The Turning Wheel – Spellling 

The cover invokes an ethereal, mysterious vibe. The music definitely reflects this.

Chrystia Cabral, a.k.a. Spellling (sic) was an artist I thought was overrated until her third LP, The Turning Wheel. While more accessible than her first two albums, her songwriting skills have matured dramatically. The production on this record is absolutely enchanting and sounds like it was created in a forest with Cabral’s talking animal friends. “Boys In School” is one of the best tracks this year, and passes incredibly quickly despite its 7-minute runtime. While the second half of this record is better than the first, most critics would tell you otherwise.


Eillish is pictured on the cover of Happier Than Ever with bleached blonde hair, holding hearself in tears.

#4 Happier Than Ever – Billie Eilish 

You already know who Billie Eilish is: her 2019 debut, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go? was impressive considering it was recorded by a 17-year-old, but lacked depth beyond the surface. Thankfully,  her sophomore effort, Happier Than Ever, sheds these faults and is way better for it. Eillish details the stress of the music industry in a relatable way that is still uniquely hers. She mostly does her signature angelic crooning over tracks like “Halley’s Comet” and “Male Fantasy“, but she is not afraid to throw in some bangers in with “Oxytocin” and “Therefore I Am“. Easily, the highlight of this record is the title track, which might be her best song to date. The buildup from a simple ukulele ballad to a noisy climax is sublime, if a little derivative. Eillish absolutely stuck the landing the second time around, and you will await her next release with bated breath.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  #3 Promises – Floating Points & Pharoah Sanders

The cover is organized like an impressionist-style painting. It is beautifully chaotic, yet complements the album perfectly.

Electronic producer Floating Points teams up with jazz tenor saxophonist Pharoah Sanders for easily the most underrated album of last year: Promises. The use of traditional jazz motifs with sparse, ambient electronic production is a concept that boggles the mind considering it has never been done until this point, or at least not nearly as well as this. While Promises has no singing, the emotional potency of the recordings here cannot go unmentioned. This record sounds like it has been worked on in some kind of musical crucible for years, and the polish of the tracks is inhuman. The only real downside of this record is that it is not really an album you can just listen to a specific song independently: the album is wholly intended to be listened to from start to finish as an incredibly cohesive unit.                              

#2 Sometimes I Might Be Introvert – Little Simz

Little Simz looks quite anxious in this scene, but the outfit and hair suggest she just needs to learn to accept her more outlandish traits

To say that this album is an incredible undertaking would be an understatement. Following Yoruban rapper Simbi “Little Simz” Abisola’s excellent 2019 record GREY Area, she somehow still manages to surpass that and put out her best album to date. Sometimes I Might Be Introvert is an enthralling deep-dive into the psyche of Abisola, and a rollercoaster of emotions that will leave the listener with a greater appreciation for one of the greatest musical minds of the last couple years. The beginning track, “Introvert“, is my favorite song of last year, and makes incredible use of a full orchestra to bring the listener into a story that is larger-than-life. Abisola exclaims that “we walk in blind faith not knowing the outcome/but as long as we’re unified, then we’ve already won”, following an absolutely explosive bridge. This is an album that does not waste a second across its hour-long runtime

#1 By The Time I Get To Phoenix – Injury Reserve

Pictured here is a very compressed picture of a man suspended in midair and surrounded by lights and red haze.

By The Time I Get To Phoenix is potentially the last album by Injury Reserve following the death of key member Stepa J. Groggs, and the best obituary that one could ever ask for. This album is messy and scattered, which usually would be a sign of inexperience, but makes complete sense here. The abstract hip-hop production paired with distorted electric guitars and syncopated drums really help communicate the themes of grief and mourning better than any clean beat ever could. The two highlights of the record, “Outside” and “Knees“, use this strategy to excellent effect. The former starts with spoken word over whining synths and out-of-tune guitars before bursting into a noisy synth breakdown that carries out to the end of the song. The latter uses blasts of electric guitar accompanied by a soulful vocal passage, by member Ritchie With A T, bringing the listener into the head of someone who longs for a lost friend. You will love everything about this album, and it is an excellent send-off for one of the most creative hip-hop groups in recent years.