10 Best Records of 2021… So Far
Six months into 2021, it’s time to reflect on the music the year has given us thus far, and find those records that may end up hitting our year-end lists come December. From hard rock to electro-pop, these are our picks for the 10 best records of 2021… so far. Photo: chloe moriondo (Courtesy Elektra Music Group).
10. Blue Weekend // Wolf Alice
Despite what Anthony Fantano may think, there’s a reason why Wolf Alice’s third album, Blue Weekend, is among the best-reviewed this year. Cinematic in sound and scope, Ellie Rowsell and crew explore layers of dream pop and heavier alternative rock throughout its 11 tracks, showcasing the versatility of Rowsell’s voice, the larger-than-life sound of the band’s production, and the raw rock energy that has always cemented Wolf Alice as one of the greats in modern British rock.
Best Track: “Smile”
9. Death By Rock And Roll // The Pretty Reckless
While on the conversation of rock, New York hard rock group The Pretty Reckless put out one of the year’s best with their fourth record, Death By Rock and Roll. Inspired by the sudden death of legend Chris Cornell, Taylor Momsen explores the darker side of the rock life through the record, meditating on death, grief, depression, and substance abuse while showing off her raw vocal chops. It’s a heavy album, and dark at times, but packs a sonic punch that keeps you coming back for more.
Best Song: “My Bones”
8. Cry Forever // Amy Shark
Australian alt-pop singer-songwriter Amy Shark’s 2018 debut Love Monster was one of the best of that year. Featuring collaborations with Jack Antonoff and Mark Hoppus, Shark showcased her ability to bear her emotions with a sharp pen and catchy hooks. With her official follow-up Cry Forever, Shark continues her winning streak, this time teaming up with such heavy-hitters as Travis Barker and Keith Urban for a record that brings about even bigger, more versatile sounds and styles, but is still 100% Shark with the same keen eye on emotions and earworms.
Best Track: “C’MON (feat. Travis Barker)”
7. KIDS // Noga Erez
Back in March, we said Noga Erez’s sophomore album KIDS just might go down as one of the best pop records of the year. So far, this sentiment has held up. Through repeat listens, Erez’s electro-pop firestorm has yet to diminish in quality, and the political messages buried within its glossy finish become more timely than ever.
Best Track: “Fire Kites”
6. SOUR // Olivia Rodrigo
Undoubtedly the most talked-about record of the year so far, Olivia Rodrigo’s debut has certainly earned the praise it’s received. Breaking into the world with the stellar single “drivers license” (a strong contender for Song of the Year), Rodrigo showed no signs of stopping, delivering hit after hit with the album’s consecutive singles, “deja vu” and “good 4 u”. When the album finally dropped in May, not an ounce of filler was found in the record’s tight 35-minute runtime. With a pop sound and vocal style akin to Lorde, and a lyrical ability sharpened by the pen of Taylor Swift, Rodrigo shows massive promise and is sure to go on to even bigger heights as she continues her ascent to the top.
Best Track: “drivers license”
5. DEMIDEVIL // Ashnikko
Though more mixtape than an album, DEMIDEVIL still more than deserves its spot in the conversation of best records of the year. Shamshing together genres from pop-punk to rap to hyper pop, Ashnikko isn’t afraid to get weird, wild, and provocative. From a rated-R girl-on-girl anthem with Princess Nokia (“Slumber Party”) to a sex-positive broadway musical number (“Clitoris! The Musical”), DEMIDEVIL is a wild ride that doesn’t stop bringing the fun.
Best Track: “Daisy”
4. Daddy’s Home // St. Vincent
One of the most anticipated records of the year, St. Vincent’s ode to the 70s era of New York funk lived up to all the hype. Inspired by the records she grew up with as a child, from Stevie Wonder to Steely Dan, Annie Clark once again teamed up with producer Jack Antonoff to produce her most personal album to date. Trading in the sterile and tight pop production of her previous record MASSEDUCTION, Clark turns to a more organic, looser sound on Daddy’s Home, and the result is lush instrumentation that unspools more layers upon every listen.
Best Track: “Down And Out Downtown”
3. Ancient Dreams in a Modern Land // MARINA
The most recent release on our list, it only takes one listen to know that London-based pop icon MARINA’s (F.K.A. Marina and the Diamonds) new record is a career-high pop gem. Though her previous effort, 2019’s LOVE + FEAR, was an unfortunately bloated mixed-bag, Ancient Dreams in a Modern Land shows a return to form for Marina, revisiting the more alternative-forward sounds of her debut album The Family Jewels, along with the sugary pop of her sophomore record Electra Heart. Starting off on a political note, Marina uses her pen to criticize the state of world politics and the patriarchy, before effortlessly moving into some of her most devastating personal tracks on the album’s latter half with tracks like “Pandora’s Box” and “Flowers” before a stellar orchestral close.
Best Track: “Goodbye”
2. Who Am I? // Pale Waves
With their sophomore effort, Who Am I?, Pale Waves breathes new life into their sound, pulling from the Avril Lavigne playbook and loading the record with 2000’s rock nostalgia. When the Manchester band’s first album came out in 2018, lead singer Heather Baron-Gracie was still in the closet. But now, both Baron-Gracie and drummer Ciara Doran have embraced their own identities–Baron-Gracie as a lesbian woman, and drummer Ciara Doran as nonbinary. Putting their truth at the forefront, owning their identity, and packing the record with both sonic and lyrical passion, Pale Waves’ latest record takes on an important meaning for anyone struggling to embrace their own identity. (A version of this review appears in The Pacific Index).
Best Track: “She’s My Religion”
1. Blood Bunny // chloe moriondo
18-year-old Michigan singer-songwriter chloe moriondo is an absolute force to be reckoned with on their sophomore record, Blood Bunny. Whereas their first record specialized in intimate bedroom ukulele (a la Dodie), Blood Bunny sees moriondo trading in for a full band and a larger pop-rock sound. It appears this approach is exactly where they should be, though, as moriondo’s stellar songwriting and vocal prowess shine even brighter. It’s an absolutely phenomenal record, packed with more Song of the Year contenders than any other album on our list. When all is said and done, It’s hard to imagine any other album coming to top it this year.
Best Track: “Bodybag”
Bren Swogger (they/them) is the creator and editor of Indie/Alt Magazine. Bren started Indie/Alt as a music blog during their sophomore year of high school, and after a long hiatus, relaunched it as an online entertainment magazine in 2021 for their capstone project at Pacific University. After 10 years in the music journalism industry, Bren has a long-standing passion for live music, but also loves to explore their passion for other artistic outlets. You can find Bren writing voraciously, adding to their never-ending stack of TBRs, and marathoning classic horror films.