Ten Of The Best Albums of 2021 So Far

“CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST” is essentially Tyler’s post-Grammy victory lap. Photo by agwilson on shutterstock.com


The Creator’s follow-up album, Tyler, is a return to the rap he’s known for after his heavily neo-soul influenced album “IGOR.”  “CALL ME IF YOU GET LOST” is essentially Tyler’s post-Grammy victory lap. 

The smooth, rich production contrasts the presence of DJ DRAMA on almost every track, whose boisterous shouting emulates the feelings of the mixtape era. Tyler tells listeners that this is his world, and we’re all living in it with this album. 

He’s not the oddball kid who eats roaches anymore. He’s the eccentric explorer who has money to spare as he drives around in his Rolls Royce.

“CMIYGL” contains several recurring motifs across Tyler’s entire discography, such as a love triangle and heavy neo-soul production, but “Call Me if You Get Lost” also sees Tyler at the absolute peak of his rapping skill-wise.  

Seeing his development from the kid who ate a roach and talked about rape into a GRAMMY winner has been amazing, and it’s exciting to speculate about where he goes from here.

Injury Reserve – By the time I get to Phoenix:

Death is cruel, sudden, and inevitable. The death of rap trio Injury Reserve’s member Steppa J Groggs back in 2020 put the group’s future into question. 

On their website before the album’s release, the remaining group members released a state expressing their desire to stick to Grogg’s desires and “make some weird shit.” 

In this regard, “By The Time I Get to Phoenix” excels with flying colors.  

Even relative to their previous works, the production on “BTTIGTP” is a vast departure from their previous works, with dissonant glitch hop-inspired production permeating the entire project. 

The songwriting structure is similarly absent, with many songs lacking choruses and just seeing vocalist Ritchie with a T adopting a new voice on each track to process his grief and dissatisfaction. 

Even at its more uplifting moments, the album is a sad affair with the track “Superman That” having the chorus of “Ain’t no saving you or me.” The project is chaotic, glitchy and abrasive while also some of this year’s most beautiful emotionally-charged music. 

IT varies from epic “By the Time I get To Phoenix” is the group’s least accessible project for new listeners, but it is a glorious ride from start to finish and the perfect tribute to the late Groggs.

Black Country, New Road – For the First Time:

When being hyped up as Britain’s best new band by various websites, a debut album of only six tracks is a bold choice to introduce yourself to the world. It’s a choice that pays off spectacularly, as there is not a wasted moment across the British septet’s 40-minute debut album. 

The instrumentation varies from incredibly elaborate mixes of guitars, saxophones, and violins to incredibly stripped-back intimate performances such as on “Track X.”

Vocals by vocalist Isaac Wood vary from screams of blinding levels of narcissism on tracks like “Sunglasses” to soft introspection on “Track X.”  “For the first time” is a short affair acknowledging that while there are good times to be had, ultimately, nothing will last forever. 

This debut album would be a lesser band’s magnum opus. Black Country, New Road’s forthcoming sophomore album, already has quite a legacy to follow.

Black midi – Cavalcade:

Black Midi’s sophomore album “Cavalcade” is not as noisy as their 2019 debut “Schlagenheim,” as the band decides to go for a more progressive rock sound. This style change worked out brilliantly for the group and led to “Cavalcade” sounding just as fresh as its predecessor. 

Coming in at tracks, “Cavalcade” proves that black midi is still leagues above most of their peers.

The album ranges from a cult leader’s chaotic and morbid storytelling on its opening track, “John L,” backed by elaborate yet frenetic instrumentation and vocalist Geordie Greep’s sometimes distorted and ominous delivery. 

It is then immediately contrasted by the beautiful and soft backing riffs and soft vocals on “Marlene Dietrich.” There’s a method to Black midi’s madness, and it works.

Playboi Carti – Whole Lotta Red:

Arriving just before Christmas, “Whole Lotta Red’s” release is a story of epic proportions. Several delays, the album being reworked multiple times due to external factors such as leaks, and a very polarizing release day in terms of the album’s sound and revelations about the elusive Playboi Carti’s personal life. 

It’s honestly a miracle that it came out.

“Whole Lotta Red” marks a distinct shift from the minimalistic mumble trap that Carti was known for on his self-titled release and “Die Lit” and sees him embrace a vampire aesthetic and a generally more aggressive delivery. It’s a feisty yet sometimes grating affair across the 24-track runtime, but it does show Carti as someone willing to go well outside of his comfort zone. 

Whether rapping aggressively over a lovely beat on “New Tank or rapping over a Bach sample on “Vamp Anthem,” the project is one of the most adventurous by an artist in a long time, even if this creativity does not always pay off musically.

Sling – Clairo:

“Sling” sonically looks back at the past, with a much more intimate feeling thanks to the mix of Jack Antonoff’s production taking the form of stripped-back guitars, pianos, and flutes and Clairo’s improved songwriting abilities. Photo by Sterling Munksgard on shutterstock.com

Although starting as bedroom pop darling off the back of singles like “Pretty Girl and “4EVER”, Clairo has increasingly moved away from her early days and chooses to continue towards a more folk-pop direction. 

“Sling” sonically looks back at the past, with a much more intimate feeling thanks to the mix of Jack Antonoff’s production taking the form of stripped-back guitars, pianos, and flutes and Clairo’s improved songwriting abilities.

“Sling ” often feels downplayed in terms of its instrumentation due to the mixing and Clairo’s naturally soft vocals but interspersed throughout is varied instrumentation that pairs well with the often-melancholic reflection of growing older that Clairo addresses throughout the album. It’s cliché to call a pop artist’s work their most intimate yet, but “Sling” is both Clairo’s most mature and personal album yet.

DONDA – Kanye West

Somehow, against all odds, after multiple delays, track reworkings and last-minute changes, West’s 10th studio album came out. Easily one of the most polarizing albums of this year. DONDA truly is a love it or hate it affair.

Across its 23 tracks, West makes his glorious return to making secular music after his transition to gospel with “Jesus Is King.”  The album ranges from the beautiful organ-backed singing on “No Child Left Behind” to a drill-inspired beat on “Off the Grid.”  

A robust gospel theming permeates throughout this album, fitting as it is a tribute to his mother. While the album sometimes does shudder under the length of its seemingly bloated tracklist, the highlights here prove that West has yet to lose his edge despite his media antics.

Porter Robinson – Nurture

Nurture is, without a doubt, one of the best electronic albums to release in years. There’s a tendency to dismiss electronic music as not being nearly as profound as other forms due to its roots as functional music for dancing instead of lyricism. 

Still, it is hard to stress just how much of a disservice it takes. Seven years after his debut album, Porter Robinson’s triumphant return to the spotlight is essentially the electronica equivalent of telling listeners that everything will be okay.

The electronic vocal effects are ever-present throughout the album. It never feels as if it is distracting to the hopeful and introspective lyrics that Robinson sings about throughout the album. 

It’s both artificial sounding yet incredibly intimate, thanks to the varied instrumentation that incorporated traditional instrumentation and never felt overproduced. It feels like the perfect fusion of electronic and indie-pop.

TYRON – Slowthai

If “Nothing Great About Britain” was Slowthai forcing the world to acknowledge his presence as a bombastic artist, “TYRON” is Slowthai asking the world to see him as a person. Fans of his debut album will resonate more with the first half of the album, stylized in call caps that have the heavier hitting aggressive tracks, while the second disc sees Slowthai dealing with his newfound fame and public persona.

The album’s two discs create an image of a braggadocious persona immediately contrasted by the much more intimate second half of the album. Newfound fame is a prevalent topic for musicians, but it works to the album’s benefit.

Montero – Lil Nas X

“MONTERO” proved that Lil Nas X is anything but a one-trick pony. Photo by DFree on shutterstock.com

Lil Nas X’s debut album had an incredible amount of hype surrounding it, especially considering that he won a GRAMMY for his debut EP thanks to “Old Town Road.” However, “MONTERO” proved that Lil Nas X is anything but a one-trick pony. 

If anything, fans should commend him for turning what was essentially a gimmick rap song into the biggest male rapper alive, which becomes even more impressive when you remember he’s an openly gay man in a field that doesn’t particularly respect queerness.

With a star-studded feature list, “MONTERO” is an incredibly varied affair, ranging from the epic trumpet-heavy songs like “INDUSTRY BABY” to extremely introspective tracks such as “SUN GOES DOWN.” 

This album deals with his struggles with his blackness and his homosexuality. Even past all of that, in a world where radio-safe pop-rap is often the lowest common denominator, “MONTERO” is anything but dull.